Missing piece for Knicks: 'Rook,' aka Iman Shumpert
As Iman Shumpert stood against the wall outside the Knicks' locker room with his surgically repaired left knee wrapped in ice, coach Mike Woodson walked by and said, "Welcome back, Rook."
Shumpert officially is a second-year player now that he has played his first 2012-13 game. But Woodson still calls him the short form of rookie. He was being sincere, though, when he said welcome back.
Despite leading the Atlantic Division, the Knicks have missed Shumpert's versatility and defense. There were several reasons they started fast -- which has been a rarity this season -- in their 102-87 victory over Detroit on Thursday in London. Woodson put Shumpert's return at the top of his list.
"I'm happy as hell to have him back," Woodson said. "He brings so much energy and his teammates feed off it. I thought he answered the bell loud and clear. That's just the sign of a kid who's tough. Rook is a tough kid. Mentally he's tough and physically he's tough. I didn't expect anything different. His being anxious to get back out on the floor and his hard work put him in the position he was in to be successful."
Shumpert started and scored eight points in 15 minutes. He hit two three-pointers, went to the basket strong and played his typical hard-nosed defense. Perhaps most impressive was that he looked comfortable and didn't play with any hesitation in his first game since tearing his ACL and lateral meniscus in the playoffs last April.
"I think it is more so just being so happy that I have a jersey again," he said. "I can't really think about my knee. If it hurts, that's the only way I'll think about it, and it doesn't."
Shumpert kicked himself for missing two foul shots, but his debut couldn't have gone much better. Although he is expected to have some soreness, his minutes gradually will rise, and it's expected the Knicks' level of play will, too. They are deeper and better with Shumpert, who averaged 9.5 points, 2.8 assists and 1.7 steals last season.
"It's something we've been looking forward to -- Shumpert's return," Carmelo Anthony said. "We know what to expect when Shump is on the court, especially on the defensive end."
The Knicks' shooting guard play has been inconsistent, particularly since Jason Kidd became a full-time point guard when Raymond Felton fractured his right pinkie. Ronnie Brewer and James White haven't been the answers.
Shumpert can play both backcourt spots and some small forward, too. He still has to get his timing back, but he makes the Knicks stronger all around.
"I add more pressure," Shumpert said. "I can guard the one, two and three and at the other end, it's a matchup problem. Adding my size, athleticism and speed, I feel that I can put a lot of pressure on teams."
"The thing about Rook," Woodson said, "he can play four positions, he can defend four positions and he can play one and two in terms of handling the ball and relieving Kidd from not having to handle it so much. It's just nice to have him back."
But Shumpert doesn't expect Woodson to stop referring to him as a rookie. "I don't think so," he said. "I got used to it."