The Knicks aren't in the business of doing detective work. If they were, it would be interesting to see what they could dig up on the curious case of Iman Shumpert.
The 23-year-old swingman, as athletically gifted as any player on the Knicks' roster, looks like a future star once every few months, then goes missing in the box score for long stretches.
How is it that the third-year player can ignite for 27 and 26 points in back-to-back performances during the team's Texas road swing, only to come home and average 7.5 in the Knicks' next four games?
"I wish I could tell you what it is," Shumpert said recently. "But all I can really do is keep shooting, keep playing hard and believing that it'll click for me."
Shumpert's inconsistency at both ends of the floor hurts the team in two ways. First, it forces the Knicks to leave an offensive liability in the game for long stretches. Second, as the team's most viable trade asset, Shumpert's unpredictable play damages his value.
Luckily for Shumpert, coach Mike Woodson has remained patient. "Until they find their stride in this league, [young players] tend to be on a rollercoaster ride at times," said Woodson. "There might be a stretch where everything goes well for a month, but then it can go the other way quickly."
But Shumpert's play has only become more erratic. Since those breakout performances in Texas earlier this month, he has averaged just 6.4 points on 32.9% shooting.
Worse, he has logged five scoreless games this season, one shy of the six he had in his first two seasons combined.
Whatever the problem is, it doesn't seem to be confidence. In last week's game against Brooklyn, Shumpert took six of the Knicks' first 11 shots and finished the game with five points.
"If field-goal attempts are a measure of confidence, he's not lacking," said ESPN analyst Doris Burke, after Shumpert misfired on a heavily contested three-pointer with eight seconds left on the shot clock in that game.
The more likely culprit is the lack of synergy between point guard Raymond Felton and Shumpert, who usually serves as Felton's fifth and final offensive option within the starting five.
In 697 minutes together this season, Felton has assisted Shumpert just 10 times, according to NBA.com.
Only Indiana point guard George Hill and shooting guard Lance Stephenson have connected less.
It's no surprise, then, to recall that Felton was out of the lineup during that Texas trip, when Shumpert caught fire. Instead, third-string point guard Beno Udrih, who has assisted Shumpert nine times in just 291 minutes, was running the offense.
It helps that Udrih is left-handed. Each of Shumpert's four career 25-point games has come shortly after the Knicks have changed point guards and given the reins to someone who runs the offense from the left side of the floor.
That appears to help Shumpert, who shoots far better from the right (41% this season from three-point range) than from the left (31%).
Felton said "a mix" of things determine where he'll go with the ball on any given play. After a recent game, he said, "I couldn't put the ball in the hole, but I still had to be aggressive for guys like Melo, Tyson and J.R., to get them easy shots"—coincidentally failing to mention Shumpert.
The Knicks will only be able to ignore him for so long.