Mar 13, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
BOSTON – When he was about 8 years old and accompanying his dad to his NBA games, Tim Hardaway Jr. used to grab a basketball and wander onto the court beyond the 3-point arc. There, he’d attempt NBA 3 after NBA 3.
It’d be years until he’d make them regularly and even longer until he could use his standard stroke rather than pushing the ball. But he kept at it.
“I’d just be hoisting those,” Hardaway said. “I wouldn’t shoot mid-range a lot, just shoot 3s, just to challenge myself.”
No wonder Hardaway is having such an easy time transitioning from the college to NBA arc, converting 37.7 of his 3-pointers.
He’s the only rookie to shoot better from beyond the arc in the NBA than he did in each of his college seasons (minimum: 30 attempts). In fact, no rookie coming straight from college has shot so well on 3-pointers on so many attempts since Stephen Curry four seasons ago.
Before Phil Jackson became James Dolan’s false idol, Hardaway was the great hope of New York fans, and it’s easy to see why they’ve swooned.
The Knicks didn’t have a first-round pick the year before selecting Hardaway No. 24 last June, and barring an unexpected trade, they won’t have one this June, either. Hardaway is the youngest player on the Knicks, the only team among the NBA’s 10 oldest (weighted by playing time) not in playoff position.
Simply, he’s the brightest hope in one of the NBA’s darkest situations.
The 21-year-old Hardaway has posted 2.2 win shares this season, a strong mark for his age but hardly elite overall. But let’s expand the parameters further – players under 28 with at least 1.5 win shares this season. Hardaway is the only qualifying Knick. Every other team besides the back-to-back defending champion Miami Heat have multiple such players.
You can certainly forgive the Heat for lacking productive young players, Mario Chalmers excepted. They’re obviously doing quite alright.
The Knicks? Not so much.
That’s why New York fans latch onto players like Hardaway, and before him, Iman Shumpert.
Like Hardaway, Shumpert was a first-round pick bookended by two years of the Knicks lacking first-round picks. Shumpert had a promising rookie year and a strong second season, but in his third year, he’s regressed as lofty expectations rose too high.
Can Hardaway better navigate the Knicks quagmire? Maybe.
It starts with his advanced 3-point shooting.
Hardaway clearly arrived at the University of Michigan with shooting skills. He says he aced Michigan coach John Beilein’s famed challenge, making 50 3-pointers in five minutes with a single ball and rebounder, on his first try.
Last season, with future first-rounder Nik Stauskas on campus, Beilein’s drill went from 50 in five to 60 in five. Again, Hardaway cruised, peaking at 68 or 69, as he left Ann Arbor after his junior year.
“I mean, I’m a shooter,” Hardaway said. “So, that’s what I do. I shoot the ball.”
And for right now, that’s about it.
Hardaway, averaging 10.0 points per game, has been extremely one-dimensional in New York.
Of the 46 shooting guards who’ve played at least 1,000 minutes this season, Hardaway has the lowest offensive-rebounding percentage, second-lowest defensive-rebounding percentage, lowest total rebounding percentage, third-lowest assist percentage, eighth-lowest steal percentage and eighth-lowest block percentage.
He’s finished just 43 pick-and-rolls as the ball-handler with a shot, turnover or trip to the free-throw line all season, according to MySynergySports.
Defensively, he stays on the balls of his feet well, but he’s not always moving somewhere helpful. The Knicks allow 110.3 points per 100 possessions with Hardaway on the court, up from 103.4 when he sits.
Hardaway’s value lies almost completely as a spot-up shooter.
But Hardaway isn’t necessarily destined to fill only such a limited role.
He’s 6-foot-6 and athletic, a combination that considerably boosts his upside.
“I want him to be a complete player,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “So, I want him to get better defensively, and I think he will as the years come and go. He’s just got to pick up a little of weight, get a little bit stronger. But I like everything about Tim.”
If you look closely, signs are already emerging he’ll realize his greater potential.
Hardaway finishes well at the rim when he gets there. Though he ranks just 59th league-wide in fastbreak points per game, he leads the slow-paced Knicks. In his last two games, he’s scored 22 points on 11 shots and 28 points on 13 shots.
As long as everyone keeps reasonable expectations for him, Hardaway should play prominently in the Knicks’ future.
The bulk of Hardaway’s value stems from how firmly he’s entrenched himself as a solid role player who could develop into a great role player. Whether or not they re-sign Carmelo Anthony this summer, the Knicks aren’t going to stop chasing stars, and stars can always use shooters like Hardaway to pace the floor. Hardaway’s defense still prevents him from being a true 3-and-D player, but that’s hardly uncommon for a rookie. Hardaway can, and likely, will get there.
But the chance he reaches a much higher ceiling, even if it’s a longshot, increases his value. Not all role players possess this type of upside.
After years of devoting extreme attention to what his become his signature skill, 3-point shooting, Hardaway has begun to develop his all-around repertoire.
“You’ve got to,” Hardaway said. “You’ve got to expand your game each and every day, and it doesn’t stop.”
Jan 29, 2015, 1:29 AM EST
The Sixers, Knicks and Timberwolves win on the same day? Isn’t that one of the signs of the apocalypse?
Jan 29, 2015, 12:01 AM EST
The good news is that Walker may return in as little as six weeks, which means Charlotte’s playoff chances should remain intact.
Jan 28, 2015, 11:15 PM EST
The Hall of Famer held the previous record with 33 points in a period, but did so before the three-point line was implemented.
Jan 28, 2015, 10:30 PM EST
This one’s not too bad.
Jan 28, 2015, 9:43 PM EST
Kyrie Irving should have had the NBA Jam announcer calling this game.
Jan 28, 2015, 8:50 PM EST
Barnes immediately played the victim card after receiving the fine, but the NBA (and the video) say otherwise.
Jan 28, 2015, 7:50 PM EST
“Softer but not illegal,” Jackson attempted to clarify.
Jan 28, 2015, 7:00 PM EST
Cleveland is just 1-8 without LeBron in the lineup this season.
Kobe Bryant expected to be ready for start of 2015-16 season after undergoing successful shoulder surgery
Jan 28, 2015, 6:37 PM EST
Bryant will miss the remainder of the current season, and is expected to be sidelined for nine months.
Jan 28, 2015, 6:13 PM EST
One may have to work a little harder to find the late night parties in Cleveland.
Jan 28, 2015, 5:30 PM EST
Larry Sanders’ suspension allows Milwaukee to add 16th player
Jan 28, 2015, 4:45 PM EST
He is likely bought out if the Celtics can’t find a trade partner.
Jan 28, 2015, 3:59 PM EST
He had a broken wrist.
Jan 28, 2015, 3:08 PM EST
Wiggins also joins three other Timberwolves
Jan 28, 2015, 2:30 PM EST
Jan 28, 2015, 1:55 PM EST
Teletovic being released from hospital today
Jan 28, 2015, 1:17 PM EST
Jackson said breaking rule gave New York an edge due to team’s style of play
Jan 28, 2015, 12:42 PM EST
Thunder remain heavy favorites
Jan 28, 2015, 12:05 PM EST
The Raptors are trying to be patient and tap into his potential.
Jan 28, 2015, 11:17 AM EST
Mirotic, drafted in 2011, is a darkhorse challenger to Andrew Wiggins for Rookie of the Year
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