CLEVELAND -- Known as a defensive stopper, but less for his offensive prowess in coming off the bench for the Cleveland Cavaliers, shooting guard Iman Shumpert has thrived during his stint in the starting lineup.
In the starting five to replace shooting guard J.R. Smith, who is expected to miss the better part of two months while continuing his recovery from thumb surgery, Shumpert has averaged 16 points per game, including two wins for the Cavaliers.
“Everyone who plays with the starters plays well,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “Having him in the starting lineup where we can slow him down and have him take his shots. He started the season shooting the ball great, and I thought in the second lineup, having him play the second point was asking him to do too much.
“And now, he’s back in his comfort zone, where LeBron, Kyrie and Kevin can make those plays, and he can stand out here, shoot threes and guard the best perimeter guy. He’s comfortable in his role, and he’s been playing great.”
Shumpert has scored 16, 15 and 17 points, respectively, over his three starts, and his shooting percentage has skyrocketed.
Shumpert has converted 17 of his 27 attempts (62.96 percent) from the field and 11 of his 18 three-pointers, including four in a 120-108 win at Sacramento last Friday, and five of his seven looks from long distance in Thursday’s 118-103 victory over the Phoenix Suns at Quicken Loans Arena.
With those five triples, Shumpert totaled a season-high 17 points against the Suns.
“In that second half, we had Shump continuing to stay hot,” point guard Kyrie Irving said. “He did an incredible job of coming off screens and being aggressive, and other guys filled in as well. We were down a few bodies, and offensively, we’ve got to pick up the pace, but defensively, we competed at a high level. That’s what we hang our hat on, and when we do that, we’re a tough team to beat.”
Irving has seen a different player since Shumpert was moved into the starting lineup, especially on the offensive end of the floor.
“Just how comfortable he is, understanding the spacing out there, understanding where he can be aggressive, picking and choosing spots, making unbelievable choices, especially on pick and rolls, but also, being a willing cutter and playmaker,” Irving said. “That’s what we need him to be.”
With Shumpert in the starting lineup, the Cavaliers dropped DeAndre Liggins to the second-team lineup, which helps bolster the defensive effort in a similar way because the offensive options in the reserve unit is capable of contributing in a large way.
“By putting Liggs on the floor with a bunch of shooters, Channing, R.J., Kyle, and then, LeBron pretty much initiating the offense, we need Liggins on the floor to guard the point guard because we can’t have R.J. or Kyle trying to chase the point guard around,” Lue said.
“He has the responsibility of coming in and trying to guard their backup point guard and the two-guard if that’s the better player.”