PLAYER: Tim Hardaway Jr.
CONTRACT: 4 years, $6.1 million
ACQUISITION DETAILS: Taken 24th overall by New York in the 2013 NBA Draft
WHAT TO EXPECT OFFENSIVELY: At the University of Michigan, Tim Hardaway Jr. earned a reputation as a willing, if not streaky, long-range shooter. He finished his collegiate career ranked sixth in Wolverine history in 3PMs (199), most of those coming off catch-and-shoot attempts. the son of NBA legend – and Knick foe – Tim Hardaway Sr., the prodigal son is blessed with a mechanically sound shooting motion, great elevation and a quick release. Hardaway should have no problem fitting in with New York’s offense, especially since they let it fly from beyond the arc a league-leading 2371 times last season. It’s not all gravy, however, when it comes to Hardaway’s efficiency, the primary knock on him prior to the daft. After hitting 36.7% of his 3-point attempts during his freshman year, he hit on just 28.3% from three as a sophomore before improving that mark to 37.4% last year. not unlike J.R. Smith, Hardaway can heat up in a hurry or go ice-cold in a flash. On the bright side, given New York’s offense – all ‘melo, all the time - most of Hardaway’s looks are likely to come via kick outs or in transition, which should bode well for his skill set. In theory, freedom from having to be the number two scoring option, a weight he carried at Michigan, should result in better efficiency from Hardaway in New York.
Though thought of primarily as a shooting guard, Hardaway did run the point for the Wolverines in a pinch, but fans shouldn’t expect the second coming of his father. He is a willing passer and he knows how to utilize screens in the pick-and-roll, but once familiar with him, opposing defenses will eventually expose Hardaway’s sub-par ball handling. Hardaway is at his most comfortable when he has time to spot up, and watching tape of him at Michigan reveals that he got shaky when collegiate-level defenders closed out and crowded him. This, in turn, often led Hardaway to settle for poor shots, the primary reason he struggled with efficiency. Hardaway, at this point in his NBA development, probably won’t put the ball on the floor and create for himself, but he is a sneaky-good athlete who isn’t afraid of contact and is capable of finishing at the rim.
Ultimately, Hardaway is a talented offensive player, but it remains to be seen if the minutes will be there for him to develop a consistent approach given the presence(s) of the aforementioned Smith and Iman Shumpert, and the likelihood that the Knicks will deploy two point guards in the backcourt at various times.
WHAT TO EXPECT DEFENSIVELY: On the other side of the floor, Hardaway’s physical tools – at 6’6″, 205 pounds, with a 6’7″ wingspan, he has the prototypical frame of an NBA shooting guard – should serve him well as a professional. He has above-average lateral quickness, and he was a solid rebounder in college, improving on the glass each year at Michigan.
Though Hardaway was regarded as a fierce competitor at Ann Arbor, he was also guilty of defensive mental lapses. He’s doesn’t play the passing lanes consistently, he doesn’t fight over screens as much as he should, and his on-ball defense is erratic, at best. Alarmingly, his inconsistency could be seen from possession to possession in college. On one play, Hardaway might pick up the ball handler, stay with him and contest the shot, but on the very next play, he might get caught in quicksand as his man took it the hole. This suggests that the effort wasn’t always there, a correctable problem, to be sure.
THE VERDICT: Knicks fans have a right to be excited about Hardaway’s arrival in Gotham, but their expectations should be tempered. This roster is a deep roster, especially at the guard position. That, and the fact that coach Mike Woodson clearly favors veterans when it comes to minutes allocation, will likely put a lid on any talk that Hardaway will have much of an impact this season, but injuries and unforeseen circumstances can always change things, especially in New York. It will be interesting to see if Woodson deploys a traditional lineup (Ray/Shump/Melo/Baggs/Chandler) or a more unconventional small ball alternative (Ray/Prigioni/Shump/Melo/Chandler), but if Hardaway can make open shots and engage defensively more than he did in college, he might have a chance to carve out a niche role as early as this season.
Even if it isn’t as a rookie, though, Hardaway is a good long-term fit for this offense, and along with C.J. Leslie and Toure Murry, he will bring a much needed shot of youth to last year’s ancient New York roster. And don’t discount the very real possibilty that Woodson will need scoring options if/when Smith morphs into “bad J.R.,” like he did during New York’s ill-fated playoff debacle up against Indiana last year. In the immortal words of Slammer: “You can never have enough, brother.”
TOTALLY REASONABLE SEASON PROJECTION: 4.2 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.5 apg, 0.5 spg, 40 FG%, 36 3P%, 70 FT%