When we first heard Iman Shumpert's name floated as a possible draft pick for the Phoenix Suns with the 13th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft the universal reaction was, huh? Shumpert tested off the charts athletically but his shooting efficiency at Georgia Tech and decision-making as a point guard has left most draft "experts" thinking he'd be a late first round pick.
Here's the thing about draft experts -- and they will admit this -- they are wrong every year. Guys get drafted both too high and too low for the simply reason that this process isn't a science. With a guy like Shumpert there's a few critical things to consider.
We know that he's an elite NBA athlete with incredible physical traits. He stands 6-5.5 with a wingspan of 6-9.5. To compare, the average power forward has a seven foot wing span. Shumpert's max vertical leap of 42 inches is right up there with Vince Carter (43) and more than Rudy Gay (40.5) and Derrick Rose (40). He's a tenacious defender considered a potential lock-down guy at the guard and wing positions and rebounds well above average for his position.
What we don't know about Shumpert is if he can play the point guard position or shoot well enough to play off the ball. He's certainly not done that well in those areas after three years at Georgia Tech but his other attributes put him high enough up the board that it's worth looking at.
Does he have the instincts and mind-set to learn the game at the next level and take better shots when he's playing with better players? Or will he be the next Gerald Green who was a great athlete who could never figure out how to play at the NBA level?
That's the point of the draft workout process. Scouts can tell you what he's done in a certain situation but if you want to understand what a player can do in the future, you have to look at the combination of his physical abilities and mental make up.
Gani Lawal on his former teammate, Iman Shumpert
We asked his former George Tech teammate, Suns forward Gani Lawal, some questions about Shumpert to see what he had to say. Lawal himself is a high character guy with a very good head on his shoulders (albeit prone to some rookie mistakes last year) who played two years with Shumpert and considers him a friend.
"He definitely can run a team. He's very intelligent. That's one thing that hasn't been reported as much. He's very intelligent, he knows the game. I feel he can play the point," Lawal said.
I asked Gani who he would compare Shumpert to. He struggled a bit before coming up with two names -- Scottie Pippen and Trevor Ariza.
"It may be a stretch but as far as his defensive ability and athleticism I'd say a throw-back Scottie Pippen...Just kind of an all-purpose do everything kind of player. You know how Scottie was kind of a point forward. As far as players now, I would have to say Trevor Ariza. He's a lot bigger than Trevor Ariza (Ariza is 6-8, 200 lbs. Shumpert is 6-6, 220)...When I think of how Trevor Ariza is defensively, how explosive he can be on the offensive side of the ball I think he might have some similar qualities."
Lawal said there's really not a direct comparison for a guy like Shumpert who's comparable to Ariza defensively and athletically but is a better ball handler and distributor.
Gani, of course, is prone to talk positively about his friend and former teammate, but if you think about the potential of a guy who has that combination of defensive ability and size at the guard position, you have to give him a second look at 13. Even if he's more of a play-making two guard like OJ Mayo, that's a lot of upside.
Teams (and draft experts) don't think twice about drafting bigs who have size and defensive promise and "raw" offensive ability. If you can get the same at the guard position you have to consider it over some rather mediocre-looking power forwards.
His rise late in the draft process reminds me of Jrue Holiday who the Suns ended up passing on in favor of Earl Clark. Holiday was slotted anywhere from late first round up to the top-five but teams seemed scared by his poor numbers at UCLA and questions about his ability to play the point guard position. There's a lot of folks regretting letting him fall to 17 in 2009.
This is a (almost) 21-year-old guy who's played in one place. If you have a chance to draft a player with known elite athletic ability and high-potential to be an above average defender, you have to explore the possibility that his offensive game could develop.
You look at his raw shooting mechanics. You look at him in specific ball handling drills and situations. You look at him running pick and roll sets compared to Jimmer Fredette with bigs like Marcus Morris and Tristan Thomas. And most importantly you spend time talking to Shumpert to get a sense for his ability to learn the game.
That's what it seems the Suns have done and if they decide to take him over one of the power forwards, I'd be on board with that. Guys like this don't come around very often. 6-9 power forwards with a mix of potentially average NBA skills do.