When Iman Shumpert pulls up to The Compound to film an episode of the DraftKings Starting Five, it’s clear the former NBA champion is still as hyped about the game as ever. Shumpert knows what it takes to compete in the League after a decade-long NBA career—but as he goes on to tell SetFree Richardson, Jadakiss, Danielle Alvari, and later us, when he’s watching players like Celtics’ All-Star duo Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and superstars like Ja Morant he’s just as impressed with their artistry.
“You gotta think: somebody that can keep a dribble, show the ref that you’re holding them off balance but keep themselves on balance to finish or practice being unbalanced and finishing, they’ve mastered it,” Shumpert tells us on set. “You watch so many different players that come out of college polished [and] able to do things that we weren’t working on cause the college game wasn’t half that stuff wasn’t even allowed. The game is evolving and there’s becoming a universal understanding of what you can do.”
To put on performances like what we’ve seen so far this NBA season—from 71-point nights to 100-plus game totals—is as much testament to the level of talent as it is passion. “This young group, they’re so talented and in love with [the game],” Shumpert continues. “You know what I’m saying? They sleep with basketballs [and] their game shoes on. I love that. They be in pressure situations and they’ll still windmill it. Like, they don’t care and they are so locked in and so in love and trusting of their bodies. Me being somebody that had all them surgeries, I’m like, I wish I could trust my body on game 55, [and] I’m just doing a windmill on a breakaway in traffic.
I remember being that young and just dribbling to a place and just being like, f*** it, let’s try it. I’ve never done it from this angle, turn this way contorted, but let’s do it. It’s like, those kids that were like five and they were trying those grown moves and you like, bruh, your ‘lil self can’t do that, like calm down. But they kept doing it and kept doing it and now they look at a grown up like, you ain’t even worked on the stuff I worked on. I mastered it.”
Shumpert, who suited up for the Knicks and won a championship with the Cavaliers in 2016, has both played alongside and against NBA superstars like LeBron James and Stephen Curry. Now, he’s witnessing firsthand how the next generation of standouts not only look up to the older players, but are taking their game even further. “Now, they look at a grown up like you ain’t even work on all the stuff I worked on. I mastered your game in my mind at eight. I start working on Steph Curry game, too, then I added a ‘lil Melo game ‘cause I had to learn how to play in the post. Now I got Kyrie Irving all up in my head so you can’t stop me. It’s crazy. It’s so cool to talk to a kid now that’s playing in the pros and they be like, yeah I been watching Kyrie my whole life and I be like, dang bro that’s crazy. I’m old. Me and Kyrie are old? Wow. Kyrie [is] younger than me so I’m like, Kyrie is who you look up to? We’re watching a new generation of just killas. It’s cool.”
As for the level of competitiveness in the League, Shumpert’s next take sparks a conversation amongst the Starting Five: “They wanna win but I meant the competitive nature of I’m gonna score on this end and you can’t score on the other end. I think the grittiness of that has left—part of it is them adjusting to officiating, the hand checking is gone, the ability to rough somebody up sorta got taken away completely but I just felt like that’s what [is lacking] when I watch it…I know what it’s like to be in the League and it’s like Iman you got four fouls, stop and I’m like, dog who’s letting somebody lay a ball up? Like why y’all mad at me, bro? I didn’t even foul ‘em, like that was a tic-tac call. But it’s like you don’t just get layups, you don’t just get open shots, you have to do it under duress or I don’t believe it.
I’m one of those guys. I don’t believe he’s that good [if] he can’t do it under duress,” he adds. “…That’s what I end up watching but like I said that’s my personal [opinion]. I want y’all to play how I want y’all to play and it’s like nah, they worried about scoring 150 points and they’re doing it very well.”
As for what SetFree, Kiss and Danielle think? Watch the DraftKings’ Starting Five series here.
Photos via The Compound and DraftKings.
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