One player went undrafted, the other thought he would. But once they both hit the NBA hardwood in extended roles, they made all of the doubters look foolish by not realizing how good they would be on defense.
Four years after going undrafted, former NBA player and current ESPN NBA analyst Bruce Bowen finally got his big break with the Boston Celtics in 1997. He then went on to win three championships with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003, '05 and '07, making his mark on defense. From 2001 to '08, he was named to the NBA All-Defensive First or Second Team, and in two of those years (2005 and '07), he was the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year.
As for the other player, Iman Shumpert heard he was going to be in Bowen's shoes coming out of college.
"I was told I was going undrafted," Shumpert said on Tuesday in his hometown of Chicago, before taking on the Bulls. "That's what I was told by everybody. I guess I wasn't good enough in everybody else's eyes. I was called fool's gold. That's what I was called in the draft combine. That's how I remember it. I took it personal."
But only 51 games into his rookie season, Shumpert is already following in Bowen's footsteps, becoming known as one of the game's best perimeter defenders. And he's caught the eye of Bowen, who told ESPNNewYork.com that Shumpert is paving his own path.
"He’s his own person," Bowen said. "I don’t like saying that a player reminds me of me. Allow Iman to be the player he is and don’t compare him to anyone else. The more Iman isn’t compared to other players, the more he can create something special for himself."
Where Bowen excelled was having great footwork and being very active with his hands in face-up situations with his opponents, which was done to distract their line of sight to shooting at the basket and passing to teammates. While he only averaged 0.8 steals per game in his 13-year career (he retired in 2009), those defensive traits frustrated his opponents and forced them into unbalanced attempts.
Shumpert may not be as active with his hands in face-up situations, but he gets right into players' breathing space and his solid 6-5, 220-pound frame enables him to stay with them when they dribble. He then shows off quick and strong hands swiping at the ball, often forcing a fumble. That was evident against Derrick Rose on Sunday, when Shumpert had four steals simply when the reigning MVP and arguably best point guard in the league drove into the lane. On the season, Shumpert is averaging 1.8 steals per game, which is fifth-best in the league and second among rookies after Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio (2.22).
"He’s a hard-nosed defender and he likes to be physical with guys," Bowen said. "He doesn’t allow them to get where they want to go. He has quick feet and he’s very athletic, which plays well into his defense. At Madison Square Garden, he was able to be physical against Chicago. But when the Knicks visited Chicago, he wasn’t getting the same calls. He needs to learn when to back off on the road. If he sticks with it in time, he’ll excel."
Bowen said that while Shumpert deserves credit for his individual accolades, Tyson Chandler's impact on the rookie's defense shouldn't be overlooked. Bowen said that Chandler's interior presence has allowed Shumpert to take more risks on the defensive end.
"The Knicks' defense starts with Tyson Chandler," Bowen said. "When you have Chandler backing you up, it allows guys like Iman Shumpert to be aggressive."
Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire obviously get the name recognition as the Knicks' dominant duo, but Shumpert and Chandler should be included in the cover lines. Through all of the team's offensive ups and downs, losing Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin, they've anchored an improved defense that's needed to step up in order to compensate for Melo being the main scorer and give them a better chance at winning games to remain a lock in the playoff picture.
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