Iman Shumpert has never been a star, but the man who earned an NBA championship ring as a member of the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers and has been regarded as an athletic, tough-minded defender, had almost become an afterthought.
Having played in just 14 games last season, and none after he was traded by Cleveland to the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 8 because of plantar fasciitis in his left foot, many across the league wondered if Shumpert was on the fast track to NBA purgatory.
However, despite being listed as questionable because of a sore hip, the 28-year-old Shumpert was in the starting lineup for the third consecutive time in five games this season for the Kings as they hosted the Washington Wizards on Friday night.
Battling a troubling calf muscle in the preseason, Shumpert was able to play in only one preseason game before the season tipped off.
However, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound swingman said being able to do so was a huge confidence booster for him.
“Being able to play that preseason game, that was a different type of happiness for me after sitting out a year,” Shumpert told reporters. “I joke around about it a lot, but I’m serious as a heart attack when I say it -- I don’t wish that on anybody, not being able to play.”
The 17th overall selection in the 2011 NBA draft by the New York Knicks, Shumpert made a big splash in his first start as a King on Oct. 21 at Oklahoma City when he exploded for 26 points in a 131-120 triumph.
Shumpert canned his first three 3-point attempts against the Thunder that night and scored 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting in nine first-quarter minutes.
The 26-point effort came exactly one year to the date of his last 20-point game, scoring 21 points for Cleveland against the Orlando Magic.
“I’m not here feeling entitled, I’m just here to play basketball,” Shumpert told reporters. “Today, it just came my way a lot.”
Having exercised his $11 million player option to remain with Sacramento this season June 8, Shumpert is headed toward unrestricted free agency July 1 as he is in the final season of a four-year, $40 million deal signed with Cleveland on July 9, 2015.
Going into Friday night's game against Washington, Shumpert was averaging 13.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.3 steals in 22.0 minutes this season, shooting 58.1 percent from the field, 52.6 percent from deep and 85.7 percent from the free-throw line.
Having had the experience of being an NBA champion, Shumpert wants to be a leader for coach Dave Joerger's young Kings.
“Being able to be vocal about that and them being able to look me in the eyes and see like, ‘This is how it’s supposed to be, we’re on the road, they’re going crazy’ ... and when everybody can settle down, I think it helps them,” he said. “I’m just trying to do as much of that as I can, and we’ll keep putting ourselves in position to win.”