The Rapid Rise of Iman Shumpert

The rookie has already carved out a niche in the starting lineup

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Shumpert has made a quick trip to the center of attention.

    You're probably familiar with this plot.

    Whether you encountered it in a movie, novel, television show, Broadway show, Off-Broadway show, puppet show, religious parable or long-form magazine profile, you've read the story about the wide-eyed youngster who shows up in New York with dreams of hitting it big.

    Sometimes it ends with terrible drug addiction and sometimes it ends in magnificent triumph, but the story keeps getting told because people like to see whether the Big Apple gets the best of someone. 

    The best current rendition of it is going on at Madison Square Garden with the Knicks and Iman Shumpert. He was introduced to the New York in a shower of boos on draft night and his chances of making a major impact seemed to take a serious hit when the entire offseason was wiped out by the lockout.

    Like any good protagonist, Shumpert never lost his faith and got an opportunity thanks to the departure of Chauncey Billups in the offseason.

    He made the most of it at the Garden on Christmas Day, right up until the moment he got hurt and his bright shining debut looked like it would be nothing but a hideous tease that signaled the end of our hero's chances of conquering the big city.

    But, just when things seemed darkest, another chance came and Shumpert seized it all over again. The Knicks were in a bad way when they arrived in Washington on Friday night thanks to four losses in their last five games caused in large part by the dreadful play of Toney Douglas. 

    Things got off to another bad start and Mike D'Antoni went to Shumpert to try something new at point guard. If this were a movie, the music would swell and Shumpert would start knocking down shot after shot before being carried out of the arena while the credits rolled.

    It wasn't quite that majestic -- Shumpert hit only four of 11 shots -- but it was pretty good. Shumpert doled out seven assists and the Knicks outscored the Wizards by 20 points while he was on the floor in what turned out to be a three-point victory. 

    Shump got lots of help, especially from Carmelo Anthony down the stretch, but his play was undeniably a huge part of the reason why the Knicks were able to find their way to a win. 

    The offense looked totally different with Shumpert running it because he penetrated and kicked the ball to open men instead of simply looking for his own shot like Douglas was doing for so long.

    He also led a more aggressive defense by picking up four steals in the second half and pressuring Wizards star John Wall in a way that Douglas wouldn't or couldn't in the first two quarters.

    The Knicks' defense won't ever make anyone mistake them for the Knicks of old, but the passive approach of the first six games is one that simply won't work for the team.

    That's why Shumpert was in the starting lineup in Detroit on Saturday night to help lead the Knicks to a blowout victory over the Pistons. His line wasn't quite as impressive as foul trouble kept him off the court for a while, but his presence seemed to rub off on his teammates as the Knicks moved the ball as crisply as they have all season to produce easy bucket after easy bucket.

    Douglas was an afterthought, playing just six minutes thanks to an interestingly timed shoulder injury and Mike Bibby's hot shooting off the bench.

    Beyond being a scorer should the Knicks fall behind big early, Douglas' role is a bit hard to figure right now because Shumpert is doing everything better while also showing plenty of room to improve.

    We don't yet know how this spin on the classic New York story is going to end. This could be the montage where Shump is on top of the world while "Walking on Sunshine" blares on the soundtrack oblivious to the fact that David Stern, LeBron James or some other hideous villain is plotting his demise. 

    You can't rush an ending, but you can enjoy the ride. Thanks to Shumpert, the ride is a lot happier than it was on Friday afternoon.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.