In what will probably stand as his last major move, Walsh selected Iman Shumpert, a defensive-minded guard from Georgia Tech, with the 17th pick Thursday night.
Walsh is stepping down as team president on June 30, after three years of running the franchise, and after clashing with team ownership over issues of autonomy.
With no more blockbuster deals to make, no great assets to trade and a low pick in a weak draft, Walsh still filled some needs Thursday.
Shumpert, who stands 6 feet 5 inches and 212 pounds, can play both backcourt spots and some small forward. He is regarded as a superb defender and athlete, with a 42-inch vertical leap and a 6-10 wingspan. He could play alongside Chauncey Billups or back him up, adding critical depth to a talent-depleted roster. And he will bring a defensive posture to a team that ranked in the bottom third last season.
“I really like him a lot,” Walsh said.
Shumpert averaged 17.3 points, 3.5 assists and 2.7 steals as a junior and was on the all-defensive team in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He was not a prominent name, however, and his selection evoked immediate boos at the draft in Newark.
“I feel good about it, I really do,” Walsh said of taking Shumpert. “I kind of came into this league with everybody booing me when I took Chuck Person, who was rookie of the year, and Reggie Miller the next year. And I’m going out with everybody booing me, and that’s a good sign.”
Walsh laughed. He has been right more often than not in 25 years of stocking rosters in Indiana and New York. He is leaving the Knicks with an arsenal of All-Star talent, with Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Billups now anchoring the lineup.
The need now is for high-quality role players, as well as shooting, rebounding and size.
But the best shooters and big men were gone by the time the Knicks picked. Those needs will have to be addressed in free agency.
Shumpert does not need the ball to be effective, making him a solid complement to the Knicks’ three stars. Although he is considered more of a combination guard than a true point, Walsh said Shumpert has the requisite playmaking skills. The Knicks need an eventual heir to Billups, who will be 35 next season.
“I think with our team offensively, he probably will play more point than he will two guard, because Chauncey can play ‘two’ probably as good as anybody,” Walsh said. “I think he can run pick-and-roll, I think he’ll see the play, and he’ll get better at it.”
Walsh said that Shumpert is also a better shooter than his reputation suggests and shot well during his workout for the team
“His shot’s not broken,” Walsh said, adding, “He has good form.”
At one point, it appeared that forward Kawhi Leonard, a small forward from San Diego State and a projected lottery pick, might fall to the Knicks, which would have changed their plans. Leonard was taken 15th, by Indiana, and traded to San Antonio.
Walsh could have chosen a top rebounder (Kenneth Faried) or the draft’s most versatile defender (Chris Singleton), but he said Shumpert was the best choice, given the need for backcourt help. Singleton, a 6-8 small forward, would have had trouble finding playing time behind Anthony, and he is not suited to play shooting guard, Walsh said.
Although team officials had thoughts of trading up in the draft, they had few assets to use, and a reluctance to part with the few young players they had.
The Knicks did not have a second-round pick, but they bought the rights to Kentucky’s Josh Harrelson, a 6-10 forward, from the New Orleans Hornets, who took him 45th.
Walsh will become a team consultant on July 1 and hand the front-office reins to Glen Grunwald, the team’s senior vice president of basketball operations. Grunwald will serve as interim general manager until the team identifies Walsh’s heir.
The next order of business is to address the status of the scouting and front-office staff and Coach Mike D’Antoni’s assistants, all of whom have contracts expiring at the end of the month. Walsh said that he expected everyone to be retained.
The selection of Shumpert seemed to surprise ESPN’s studio analysts, who were promoting Singleton and Faried as the logical choices. Jon Barry praised Shumpert, but added, “He’s not great at one particular area.”
“Don’t expect miracles out of him,” Barry said, “but he’s a guy who can play defense. That’s what the Knicks need.”
Three years ago, Walsh returned to New York, his hometown, to fix a broken franchise. This spring, the Knicks made the playoffs for the first time in seven years and posted their first winning record in a decade. But the franchise did not pick up Walsh’s contract option, and negotiations on an extension broke down when Walsh failed to get assurances of autonomy from James L. Dolan, the Madison Square Garden chairman.
“I’m going home,” Walsh said with a mixture of glee and relief. “I loved it here, I really did.”