by Quentin Haynes
*Of course Hardaway would sprain his ankle before I post this.
Hope is an excellent way to get through a down basketball season. Teams like Milwaukee and Los Angeles may not have talent on their roster, but the hope springs eternal, as both teams have lottery picks to bank on. The idea that their roster can be jolted with the addition of a young rookie talent intrigues fans, and can push them through trying basketball. Others, like New Orleans, can look at their current superstar, Anthony Davis, and take this season in stride, knowing that they have one of the top ten players in basketball at the ripe age of twenty-one.
For the Knicks, they have neither really. Thanks to the Carmelo Anthony trade, the Knicks will have to give up their 2014 first round pick in the middle of a losing season, and said star could leave for greener pastures. Phil Jackson offers hope, but that hope goes against all conventional wisdom. Believing James Dolan gave Jackson full autonomy to build this roster sounds great, until you remember his meddling in Carmelo Anthony trade negotiations. Combine the Dolan element with inexperience in the front office and head coach position, plus a bad roster, it’s easy to squash the prospective hope for Knicks fans.
Instead, the Knicks could take a glance at Tim Hardaway Jr. and his pending development. The Knicks selected Tim Hardaway Jr. last year with the 24th pick in the second round. He had the NBA bloodlines to match an NBA-level game. Not only that, but he looked and fit the part of a slashing shooting guard right off the bat. Even with the bloodlines, Hardaway Jr. came into the draft process with his known list of weaknesses. In his three seasons at Michigan, he was good, but never great. Outside of his 55.7 TS% in his freshman season, Hardaway Jr.’s shooting numbers decreased every season. He was an athlete, but not an elite athlete, and in a league with multiple adaptions of wing players, one could envision him struggling at the next level. Then, combine those question marks with a surprisingly strong wing class, Hardaway’s fall late into the first round made sense.
As a rookie, Hardaway Jr. has fared well off the bench. He is currently averaging 10.9 points per game, ranking him fourth in the less than spectacular 2013 rookie class behind Trey Burke, Victor Oladipo, and Michael Carter-Williams. His 2.7 win shares ranks second amongst his fellow rookies, trailing only Brooklyn’s Mason Plumlee. As a former fan, I fully expected the Knicks to go with someone like Reggie Bullock – a “three and D” athlete – or a point guard prospect like Isaiah Canaan. One season out, Hardaway Jr. looks to be a contributing member to the Knicks moving forward, and one of the cheap talent past rosters missed out on.
When talking about putting the ball in the basket, there’s nothing Hardaway Jr. does that bothers me. NBA.com’s shot chart has him shooting 58% at the rim, 41% on mid range, and 36% from three. All three of those shooting statistics would register as below average, however, he has served as a buffer for a terrible J.R. Smith season, and ultimately, has given the Knicks a much-needed scoring boost off the bench. Breaking down some of his specific shots, Hardaway Jr. shoots 37.6% on catch-and-shoot jumpers and 40.7% on drives. Not the greatest statistical output, but for a rookie, I find that to be decent. He’s also a solid free-throw shooter (81.8%), and Hardaway’s 55.4 TS% would suggest he’s a slightly above-average scoring talent.
The problem, however, is almost everything else. The other dimensions of Hardaway Jr.’s game seems rugged or non-existent – his 1.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game would suggest that. His slight frame allows opposing players to bump him out of position. Per 82games.com, with 1,505 offensive rebound chances this season, he has collected a rebound on just 1.1% of those opportunities. He hasn’t faired much better on defensive rebounds, either: Hardaway has 89 rebounds on 1,406 chances – a 6.3% defensive rebound percentage.
Defensively, Hardaway is a mess. Most rookies are, but his defensive flaws stand out on this awful Knicks defense. Man-to-man, he is poor, allowing 48.5 percent shooting to pick-and-roll ball handlers and 42% on isolation plays. His size catches up to here, as he also struggles on whether to go over or under the screen, ultimately being consumed by them. As a result, Synergy has him allowing 38.7 percent on 127 spot-up threes for the season. He doesn’t give up many threes, but he struggles to stick with his man. When Hardaway gets near the opponent, he seems timid, almost afraid to foul, and that allows the shooter to not only get him off balance, but just enough space to defy his length and square up for a jumper.
It’s very easy to look at Tim Hardaway Jr. and suggest that he’ll be nothing more than a scorer with a decent shot selection. Perhaps he can be a J.R. Smith type player in the pros, and getting a J.R. Smith-level scorer with the 24th pick is certainly a win. That being said, hope never operates that way. Some will call him the “Next D-Wade”, and if he doesn’t reach that status, he’ll be a bust. But the hope for the Knicks is that he develops into an Arron Afflalo-like player – someone who can put the ball in the basket, provide adequate secondary skills, and work in a defensive system, and again, that’s really good for the 24th overall pick.
As the triangle offense looks to land in New York next season, the Knicks will either build around Carmelo Anthony or trudge through a season with zero expectations. Either way, the 2014-2015 New York Knicks lack subsistence on the outside looking in. Sure, Phil Jackson’s impending recruitment of free agents will create some intrigue, but the basketball projects to be some (or no) Carmelo Anthony, some Raymond Felton floaters, Amar’e’s woeful defense and Prigioni ultimately getting fewer minutes than he deserves, all leading to an eventual first round playoff exit.
For that, the only piece of hope I see on the roster is Tim Hardaway Jr, and the chance that he can develop into an important cog for New York’s future.