Following the Sacramento Kings loss on opening night, one player couldn’t stop smiling. He wasn’t happy about the loss, but after a year of injuries and setbacks, Iman Shumpert was just excited to be back on the court, no matter how much he played.
Shumpert sat out all but 14 games last season. Knee surgery put him on the shelf for the Cleveland Cavaliers and during his rehab from the injury, the eight-year NBA veteran developed plantar fasciitis and missed the remainder of the season.
Needing an experienced player to match up against All-Star Paul George, coach Dave Joerger called Shump’s number Sunday afternoon. There was no way to tell how he would respond on the court, but if nothing else, Joerger knew he would play tough defense.
Shumpert hit the ground running, knocking down a 3-pointer 38 seconds into the first quarter. That was only the start.
“I’m happy for him, I’m happy for his family,” Joerger told reporters following the game. “I’ve always had a belief in him and we get along very well. So it’s an opportunity for him. I don’t know that we’re going to get that every night, but that was pretty special to see.”
The 28-year-old wing kept hitting 3-pointers in the opening quarter, knocking down 4-of-6 from behind the arc in the games first 10 minutes on his way to 16 points.
Shumpert’s play put a charge in a young Kings team as they rallied to take a 34-32 lead heading into the second quarter. He continued his strong play throughout the game, finishing with a team-high 26 points to go with four assists, three rebounds, three steals and two blocks in 30 minutes of action.
With Sacramento focused on a youth movement, there are no guarantees that Shumpert will be a regular in the rotation for the entire season. He’s in the final year of a four-year, $40 million contract he signed in July of 2015. The veteran wing is owed $11 million this season and is an unrestricted free agent next summer.
The Kings are scoring at will through three games, averaging over a 125 points per game. They’ve struggled on the defensive end and could use a player with Shumpert’s skill set, especially while Bogdan Bogdanovic recovers from a knee issue.
For one night, Shumpert looked like his old self and maybe more than that. He’ll need to stay healthy, but if he continues to perform, he might have a shot to rebuild his value after a rough year of rehabbing from injury.