Chris Herring covers the New York Knicks for the Wall Street Journal and has spent the past few years covering Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith on a regular basis. In this Q &A, Fear The Sword talks to Herring about Shumpert and Smith, as well as soon to be waived center Samuel Dalembert. You can find Chris on Twitter on @HerringWSJ.
First reaction: Wow, the Cavs are making what seems like a smart gamble here. Have felt like Shumpert makes sense for their roster for awhile now, and for all J.R.'s warts, I don't think there's any question he can be a fifth- or sixth-best player on a true contender.
Still remains to be seen how and when, exactly, the other two teams benefit from this deal, but I immediately liked it for Cleveland. J.R. can largely replace Dion's production if he's healthy, and if Shumpert can play consistently on D, he gives them something they don't have.
2. To start with Iman Shumpert, he's currently out with a shoulder injury. How serious is that injury and when can the Cavs expect him back?
Less than an hour before he was traded, I was watching Iman run at close to full speed on the court in addition to shooting around from the three-point line. He looked great. Mike Crispino, the Knicks' radio host, looked over at me and said, "Boy, seems like someone's ready to come back pretty soon," because of how good his shot looked. Of course none of those warmups involved him taking any contact, but I'd assume that he can play again within a week or so.
3. When he does return from injury, what does he bring to the table on both ends of the floor?
That's the biggest question in this deal. Can he, at times, be a lockdown defender the way he was for the Knicks a couple years ago?
If we're going just off this year, the answer may be no. I've written about some reasons as to why that may be the case. But either way, his defense has been concerning. ESPN Stats and Info said Shumpert ranked 192nd out of 201 in terms of how many points per play he was allowing. That is horrendous, and if you're Cleveland, all you can hope that he's more committed to just playing a defined role with a better team.
His offense had been coming around some this year -- was averaging 15 points a night through the first couple weeks -- but had regressed back to normal levels before his injury. He's inconsistent on that end, but it will be interesting to see whether he thrives with someone like LeBron. He'll probably get more open shots and hopefully turn it over less. At best, maybe he becomes a 45% shooter, and maybe 36 or 37% from three, with this cast of players.
4. To talk about his shooting for a minute, he's only shot above 40 percent from the field for a full season once and that was as a rookie? Not that the Cavs need him to be a shooter, but is he a guy teams will have to respect and close out on off the ball?
Some nights, he will be. Other nights, he'll just be off the mark. Before the season, he kind of scoffed at the notion that anyone would label him a 3 and D player, but with a team like Cleveland, that's kind of exactly what you'd want him to be.
His ball handling is relatively poor for a guard, and he was notably bad at finishing around the rim for awhile in the aftermath of his torn ACL (perhaps because he was still regaining his confidence in his leg). What you'll find is, while he generally has good form on his shot, he misses by wide margins on his misfires. Sometimes will hit the side of the backboard on a corner three, or simply miss the rim on a straight-on look. No two shots look the same, although he's been a decent shooter from outside for his career.
5. Now onto J.R. Smith. He obviously hasn't been the same player since the year he was the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year. Is he, or can he still be, some form of that player?
That was a rare situation that I don't think will happen again. He was a sixth man, but he also was playing upwards of 30 minutes a night. He became the first player in league history to lead his team in minutes for a season without ever starting a game. In many ways, he was their second-best player, which is simply too big a role to entrust J.R. with on a contending team.
He had knee surgery following that season, and his explosion has seemingly lacked ever since then. Far less drives to the basket, more jumpshooting. Less success in the sorts of iso scenarios that he's known for.
He has been a good passer -- arguably the Knicks' best this year -- but with all the injuries he and others have had this season, there's been little time to develop cohesion or rhythm.
6. In your mind, what is Smith's ideal role with a Cavs team where LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are going to dominate the ball and Kevin Love needs touches?
If he's out there with those three simultaneously, he's obviously best as a catch-and-shoot threat. Thought it was telling that he ranked No. 4 in the league from three-point range on catch and shoot opportunities at a blistering 46.5% clip. That's a deadly rate, and he didn't get enough of those sorts of shots with New York since he was often relied upon to handle the ball whenever Melo was on the bench.
7. A lot has also been made of Smith's personality. Has that been a problem for the Knicks during your team covering the team and could it be a problem in Cleveland?
J.R. is a pretty fun, care-free guy about a lot of things. In some ways, that probably helps him, because he's playing off his instincts, and not worried about the pressure that other guys might be bogged down with.
But he doesn't always show the greatest discretion, either, as we all know. His sense of humor and antics were tolerated during a 2012-13 year in which he won the Sixth Man award, but the Knicks came down on him about those things the following year when his performance slipped.
In a more veteran locker room, he may not be as big an issue. But I did think it was a bit for J.R. to be acting as a mentor for guys like Shumpert and Hardaway. Probably part of why the Knicks have struggled to develop their young players in recent years, honestly.
In a new setting, he'll probably conform for the most part because of the glare that's on him, similar to this year so far with Phil Jackson running the Knicks. There weren't any glaring incidents, and he said at times that he was trying to be on his best behavior because he had a new boss.
8. From what you've seen from this Cavs team and what you know about Shumpert and Smith, does this improve the Cavs moving forward? If so, how?
It can, assuming those guys play well and fit their roles. But as I was saying earlier, it's still tough to depend all that much on J.R., even in a diminished role from the one he had in New York. I do think it was a worthwhile deal for Cleveland, though, for sure. Could improve them without a doubt. Only issue is that they still need an interior defender to be taken seriously as a contender.
9. Lastly, the Knicks are also going to waive Samuel Dalembert. Can he provide any sort of rim protection at this point?
He can, and has actually done a respectable job protecting the rim. Some fans will look at his block numbers and think he's great. But he's also out of position quite a bit, often just barely getting to the right spot in time to make a block.
He's also not mobile enough to guard teams that like to play stretch fours and fives, which was a huge shift from what Tyson Chandler was able to do (I actually remember Chandler blocking a potential game-winning three from Kyrie as the buzzer went off a couple years ago. That's a play Dalembert simply could never remake).
When a team like New York -- who has the third-worst defense in the league -- is only playing Dalembert for 16 minutes a night or so, that's a good indication that he has flaws in his game. We know he's extremely limited on offense, but he's certainly not great on defense, either.
Still, have to figure he'd be the best post defender on Cleveland's roster the second they sign him if and when that's the case.