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  • In Establishing Consistency, Tim Hardaway Jr. Must Become a Leader Among Knicks Youth

In Establishing Consistency, Tim Hardaway Jr. Must Become a Leader Among Knicks Youth

Photo: Anthony Corbo/TKW Illustration
Jeff Hornacek will experiment with younger lineups during the Knicks’ final stretch of the season—and he’ll need Tim Hardaway Jr. to mature into a consistent player in order to lead New York’s youth.

Inconsistency has plagued Tim Hardaway Jr. throughout his brief NBA career as it does for many young players. After having shown flashes of excellence with a few 30-point performances in Atlanta, the Knicks front office took a gambit costing north of $70 million that Hardaway Jr. could make the jump to a player that can produce big moments on a nightly basis. So far, the bet has not paid off as Hardaway has exhibited instability in his return to the Big Apple.

New York’s fortunes this season have run in parallel to Tim Hardaway Jr.’s streaky play. In Knicks’ wins, Hardaway Jr. is +11.1 on 45.4 percent shooting from the field and 35.7 percent from deep. In losses, he is -6.3 on an abysmal 38.3 percent from the field and 29.3 percent from deep (per NBA Stats).

While there are no real consistency metrics readily available, we can see Hardaway’s game-to-game deviation: He averages 16.7 points per game this season, but let’s take a look at his last 10 games leading up to the All-Star Break. Since scoring 15 points in a win in Phoenix on January 26, Timmy has scored: 15, 15, 4, 6, 9, 8, 9, 17, 9, and 37—that’s a Jamal Crawford–esque game log. In this sample, Hardaway’s standard deviation from his points per game average is 7.92—indicating extreme volatility. As Knicks color commentator Clyde Fraizer aptly pointed out during THJ’s 37-point outburst: when Hardaway is struggling, his shots are off-balanced and he’s often not fully squared up to the basket.

What separates good from great players is the ability to bring their A-game every night. Timmy is only in the first year of a brand-spanking-new four-year contract, and the hope is that he finds some semblance of consistency going forward, given that the Knicks’ success seems inextricably linked to Hardaway’s on-court performance.

While the Knicks’ season is all but lost as they jostle with other bottom-feeding teams for draft position, Hardaway’s streaky shooting isn’t as much of an issue as it would be were the Knicks jostling for playoff position. Nevertheless, for the Knicks to rely long-term on the 25-year-old swingman, Hardaway Jr. must develop a calming presence on New York’s lineup—not an irregular schedule of showing up or sitting down during the 82-game season stretch.

In this interim rebuild without Kristaps Porzingis, head coach Jeff Hornacek has stated that he will prioritize the development of younger players over playing time for veterans like Jarrett Jack and Courtney Lee. That means we’ll likely see a rotating cast of Trey Burke, Frank Ntilikina, and Emmanuel Mudiay running the backcourt while Hornacek looks for lineup combinations that can satisfy some form of chemistry on the court together.

With the 1 and 2 positions all but accounted for, Tim Hardaway Jr. will likely see most of his time for the rest of the season as the starting small forward, similar to the lineup Hornacek rolled out against the Sixers on February 12.

Mudiay and Hardaway both like to run out in transition, and for a team that has struggled to keep up with the quickening pace of the league, it seems like a no-brainer to pair the two athletes together and force opponents to play catch-up:

Further, Hardaway needs to be paired with a dynamic guard who can penetrate to the rim like Mudiay or Burke because the fifth-year pro shoots a incredibly better clip when he receives a pass from a driving player than from a stationary big man. On passes from driving players, Hardaway shoots 34 percent from deep and, on passes from Knicks big men, he is shooting an ugly 22 percent:

This may be because a driving player will typically vacuum defenses in a little bit more than a big man operating out of the post (unless he’s, say, Anthony Davis). With a little bit of extra room to fire away, THJ has time to square up to the basket rather than hoisting up the shot in whatever position he catches the ball:

Although Michael Beasley is trying to drive in the example above, as soon as his lane to the middle is cut off, he becomes a stationary big. When Hardaway Jr. gets the pass out from Beas, the wing doesn’t have enough space to fully correct his momentum going towards the sideline, resulting in an off-balanced shot.

Tim Hardaway Jr. is at his best when he gets the catch outside the three-point line with some space to operate. He can attack closeouts with a hard pump-fake and creatively maneuver into the lane with saucy finishes.

He is also efficient when catching the ball off a curl and cutting to the hoop from favorable paint position, like in these examples:

It’s a motion Hardaway is comfortable with, but he will need to work on other types of cutting and back-cutting as well. Playing as the small forward rather than as one of the primary playmakers will allow him more opportunities to work on finding space running around different types of screens. He will also have more chances to develop rapport with the young guards as they get to know each others’ tendencies and start to draw a new playbook together.

Tim Hardaway Jr. certainly hasn’t been the picture-perfect definition of consistency in his first year back in New York. With more playing time as the small forward, however, and with other driving guards in the lineup, Hardaway will have every opportunity to find a more consistent form for the remainder of his four-year deal and flip the narrative on his controversial return with the Knicks.

One Comment

  • Ceasar Johnson

    February 22, 2018 at 10:26 am

    Trey Burke is more polished than Mudiay and Ntilikina right now as a finisher at the rim, passer, quicker; can run the offense better. However, over time once Mudiay and Ntilikina learns to garner and utilize skill sets Burke already now possesses, perhaps through an experience of playing off of Burke for awhile maybe soon all guards could then share PG duties and also playing off the ball as one contending tandem into the future.

    Reply

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