Doing the Dirty Work

Sans the Spotlight or Big Numbers, Shump Carries the Defensive Load
by Joe Gabriele
Cavs.com Managing Editor


Cavs.com Feature

"Doing the Dirty Work"

Sans the Spotlight or Big Numbers, Shump Carries the Defensive Load

Everything is more magnified in the Playoffs. You can see it with each passing possession of each passing game of each passing round.

Simple things that don’t seem to matter much against the Timberwolves on a Tuesday night in mid-January can lead to an NBA title once late-May rolls around.

The Cavaliers have plenty of guys to put up numbers. LeBron’s record-breaking Playoff digits are so vast, they need dashes and decimal points just to let them breathe. Kyrie Irving is a consistent scorer who can put points up in bunches. Kevin Love’s career double-double numbers rank with Hall of Famers.

But in the postseason, you gotta have more.

Iman Shumpert hasn’t put up big Playoff numbers in his third postseason with the Wine and Gold. His top offensive night through the first nine games was a 14-point night in Game 2 against Toronto – coming off the bench to go 6-of-8 from the floor.

But he might say his best night was the following Friday in Toronto.

”I can’t really quantify my game with this team in this role with anything other than the plus/minus mark,” said Shumpert, who led both teams with a +27 in Cleveland’s Game 3 win north of the Border. “Usually, if I do a good job in the plus/minus category, I know I’ve had a good game.

”With this team, though, it can be anybody’s night on any given night.”

Shumpert had a career-best shooting season and had one of his best years from long-range and the stripe. During an eight-game stretch in mid-January, he averaged 13.4 points per – shooting 52 percent from the floor and 52 percent from deep.
Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

In that 21-point road win, which put the Cavs in complete control of the series, DeMar DeRozan came into the fourth quarter with 36 points on 12-of-21 shooting and – with Shumpert draped on him through the final period – finished the game with 37 points on 12-of-23 from the field.

Along with J.R. Smith, Shumpert has been tasked with some varied and difficult defensive assignments – Eastern Conference All-Stars all.

In Round 1, Smith and Shumpert tag-teamed Paul George, frustrating Indy’s lynchpin and allowing LeBron to save energy on the offensive end by roaming defensively. In the Second Round, it was the East’s second-leading scorer – DeRozan.

And that leads us to the Conference’s top scorer – Boston star, Isaiah Thomas.

Coach Lue said that Swish won’t have to deal with the diminutive star, but he’ll see plenty of Shumpert.

So as the Cavaliers have climbed up the East ladder – going 9-0 through the postseason – Shump has downsized. But he doesn’t differ his mindset based on the size of the dog in the fight.

”It’s not really a mindset,” maintained the sixth-year shooting guard. “You may have to change how you guard somebody because of how they play. But the mindset stays the same – making people uncomfortable, making them do what you want them to do instead them dictating on offense.”

In his second full season with the Cavaliers, the Chicago native and former Georgia Tech star appeared in 76 contests, starting 31 – stepping into the starting lineup when J.R. Smith went down with a thumb injury and while the team worked newly-acquired pieces into the rotation.

Shumpert had a career-best shooting season and had one of his best years from long-range and the stripe. During an eight-game stretch in mid-January, he averaged 13.4 points per – shooting 52 percent from the floor and 52 percent from deep.

We think of Tristan Thompson as a guy who does the dirty work – and he does. But filling gaps with the team battling injuries in mid-January and taking the challenge (and some inevitable lumps) from an opponent’s top scorer is as dirty a job as it gets in the Association.

“I need music all the time – just to get my vibe where I want it.”

Cavaliers Guard Iman Shumpert

It’s not that Shumpert can’t contribute on the offensive end. He averaged 9.1 points per in 16 starts during the Cavaliers’ epic shorthanded Finals run in 2015 and his four-point play was huge when points were at a premium in Game 7 of last year’s title-winning showdown.

But he knows that during money-time his calling card comes on the defensive end.

”You study film, you find out what spots guys want to get to and keep them off their spots,” said Shumpert. “You force them to shoot from spots that – yeah, they can make a shot from there, but that’s not where they were trying to get to. It’s a totally different shot.”

By now, most Cavalier fans know that Shump has easily the most unique wardrobe on the team – (maybe in the city of Cleveland). He’s cut his own songs and albums with accompanying videos. His mother teaches art and design in Chicago. He’s married to singer and actress Teyana Taylor.

Even on a team of unique individuals, Shump stands apart. Music is a constant his life: and he brings that heavy beat to the hardwood.

”All the time. I play with a rhythm; if I’m too far out of the rhythm, I feel out of place,” said the 26-year-old. “I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I can’t start the day without playing music and getting into that feeling and that movement of just being loose. I need music all the time – just to get my vibe where I want it.

”And it’s the same way with basketball,” he continued. “There’s games where Kyrie and LeBron are dominating, and you get the ball that one time and you have no rhythm. One of my coaches, when I played with the Knicks, he used to tease me and say: ‘When you get the ball, you just have to play your song as soon as you get it. It’s all about playing with a rhythm.”

Shump and his teammates are making sweet music these days – in just the right rhythm at the right time of year. Will the song remain the same on Friday night in Beantown?