Iman Shumpert played just 14 games last season.
He battled plantar fasciitis and never suited up for the Kings after a February trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The veteran guard-forward also missed time heading into this campaign because of a calf injury but got his first action in a Sacramento uniform during a preseason loss at Golden 1 Center.
“Being able to play that preseason game, that was a different type of happiness for me after sitting out a year,” Shumpert said. “I joke around about it a lot, but I’m serious as a heart attack when I say it: I don’t wish that on anybody, not being able to play.”
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He said he couldn’t even practice and sometimes was on bed rest as he recovered from his injuries.
On Sunday, he found even more happiness on the court. Not only did he make his first start for the Kings, he helped guide the team to its first win of the season.
Shumpert scored a team-high 26 points in leading the Kings to a 131-120 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder to spoil the home opener at Chesapeake Energy Arena and the first game this season for All-Star guard Russell Westbrook.
At 6-foot-5, one of Shumpert’s roles was to defend the Thunder’s Paul George, a five-time All-Star who stands four inches taller. However, he showed out on offense early. He made his first three 3-point shots and in nine first-quarter minutes led all scorers with 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
Shumpert’s scoring “gave us some confidence,” coach Dave Joerger said. “Also, to be able to stay in front of Paul George is a tough task. ... It was a big key for the game.”
De’Aaron Fox said Shumpert has been excited to play. The second-year guard was happy to have a veteran who brings it on both sides of the floor.
“He’s been around the block; he’s won a championship,” Fox said. “He knows what he’s doing when he’s out there. He’s one of our vocal leaders.”
Fox finished with 22 points and 10 assists while playing a season-high 42 minutes. Asked how he felt after the game, Fox said he was tired but expects to be on the floor a lot this season.
“Shump’s going to be like, ‘When I was 20 ... blah blah blah,” Fox joked before adding, “I feel good. I know that I’m going to have to take on that task of playing a lot of minutes and pushing the pace. ... I feel like it’s something I can do. I know if I’m going to be a leader and be one of the best players that I’m going to have to play a lot of minutes.”
The Kings (1-2) have shot better than 50 percent in each of their three games and their 131 points pushed their average to 125.7 per game, second in the NBA behind the New Orleans Pelicans, who scored 149 against Sacramento on Friday.
Westbrook scored a game-high 32 points to go with 12 rebounds and eight assists, and George scored 29 points. However, the 120 points the Thunder put up Sunday was the lowest output the Kings allowed this season.
“We’re learning and it’s going to take a while,” Joerger said about the team’s defense, adding that the coaching staff is always pointing out teachable moments during games to help bring the young team up to speed.
Shumpert led seven Kings in double figures, but he didn’t go into the game expecting a big scoring night.
His last 20-point game came exactly a year ago, when he scored 21 with the Cavaliers in a loss to the Orlando Magic.
“I’m not here feeling entitled, I’m just here to play basketball,” Shumpert said. “Today, it just came my way a lot.”
He’s just glad to be back on the court and wants to help any way he can, including using his experience to talk to his teammates about situations where they can win games.
“Being able to be vocal about that and them being able to look me in the eyes and see like, ‘This is how it’s supposed to be, we’re on the road, they’re going crazy’ ... and when everybody can settle down, I think it helps them,” he said. “I’m just trying to do as much of that as I can, and we’ll keep putting ourselves in position to win.”