Fresh off his triple-double against Virginia Tech, should Iman Shumpert receive early consideration as the ACC’s player of the year?
Debating his importance to Georgia Tech is pointless. It’s obvious that without the junior point guard the Yellow Jackets wouldn’t be where they are, even if were they are is just one game above .500 overall and 3-3 in conference play. With their recent play at home, in which they’ve hammered North Carolina, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, they could still go on a run and earn at-large consideration for the NCAA tournament with 10 conference games remaining, as well as a non-conference home game against Chattanooga. As shallow as the conference is this season, there’s no reason to think Tech can’t win the ACC tournament and get an automatic berth. The issues Tech has on the road (0-for-6 this season) don’t extend to neutral-court games, where the Jackets are 2-1 this season.
But back to the debate.
And Shumpert has worked hard to improve his game. A knock on him before the season, call it a personal observation that may not be fair, is that he would often shoot the Yellow Jackets out of games. There would be sequences in the past, and some early this season, where Shumpert would come down the court and take an ill-advised shot before the offense could get going. That hasn’t happened often recently. He is getting his teammates involved, while also expanding his offensive game. He’s using his left-hand more on drives, including a poster dunk against Virginia Tech. His shooting percentage isn’t good (40.7), but he has had to take on more of the burden of the scoring because of some of his teammates’ shooting woes (42.1 team percentage), which has also reduced his assists (career-low 3.8 assists per game). Notice, there’s a difference between leading the team in shots taken (39 more than Brian Oliver) and taking bad shots, which is what I basically said he was doing in the past.
David Teel, a columnist at the Daily Press who has been covering the ACC for more than 20 years, said in an e-mail, “After watching Shumpert last night, how could you not consider him a worthy candidate at this early stage? But it’s a crowded field.
“Nolan Smith and Reggie Jackson are positioned to become the first player to ever lead the ACC in scoring and assists in the same season; Jordan Williams leads in rebounding and shooting percentage, and is No. 5 in scoring; Chris Singleton is the linchpin of what is arguably the country’s best defense, and Kyle Singler is, well, Kyle Singler.”
Teel said the Player of the Year could hinge on the final standings. Only once has an ACC PoY played for a team with a losing conference record. Maryland’s Len Bias in 1986.
So, who is Shumpert’s competition?
There are three obvious competitors: As Teel noted, Duke’s Nolan Smith, Boston College’s Reggie Jackson and Maryland’s Jordan Williams.
To sum up their candidacies in one spot:
As of Wednesday, Smith leads the ACC in scoring (20.1 points per game) and assists (5.6) and is sixth in steals (1.5). Jackson is second in both categories (19.1 and 9.8).
Williams is fifth in scoring (17.6) and first in rebounding (12.1) and field-goal percentage (55.3).
Shumpert is sixth in scoring (16.8), sixth in assists (3.8) and first in steals (2.7).
But there’s the intangible. I get the vibe that opposing point guards fear playing Shumpert. They would never admit to that, but you could see Delaney hurrying shots last night. He was visibly frustrated in the game, often talking to the refs about perceived missed calls.
Now, Virginia’s Mustapha Farrakhan ate up Shumpert in last week’s loss at Charlottesville. Shumpert had to play somewhat tentatively after he picked up a quick foul. It will be interesting to see their rematch on Feb. 23. Jackson put up 25 on him on 8-of-9 shooting in the Jackets’ ACC opener. Shumpert had 15 on 6-of-19 shooting in that game. Tech will play at Duke on Feb. 20, which may decide the debate between Shumpert and Smith.
It should be fun to watch.
– Doug Roberson, AJC