The New York Knicks shooting guard has had a rough start to the season. Why is he struggling so much?
Tim Hardaway Jr., the New York Knicks gaudy $71 million dollar free agency acquisition, has struggled mightily to start the season, to the ear-piercing tune of 24 percent shooting from the field and 23 percent from three-point territory. This early season shooting slump has only compounded what was an already unpopular reacquisition of Hardaway Jr. for many Knicks fans. Overpaid and under-performing are difficult labels to live with in New York, a city not known for its patient fan base.
There have been mitigating factors through the opening three games. The opposition has been tough, with the first two games of the season pitting Tim Hardaway Jr. up against Paul George of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Avery Bradley of the Detroit Pistons, two of the best wing defenders in the league, who showed no mercy toward the new Knick.
Elite individual defenders weren’t the problem against a frisky Boston Celtics team, yet Hardaway Jr.’s poor play continued. He was a ghost, along with the rest of the roster, outside of box score specialist Enes Kanter. The Knicks as a unit put together 48 minutes of indifference on both ends of the floor. Play after play of defensive malaise, and an offense that stuttered and sputtered it’s way to 33 painfully confused first half points, held equal parts in an ugly loss.
A further mitigating factor is the ankle injury that Hardaway Jr. has been reportedly trying to shake off since preseason. Of course he insists this nagging injury that sounds, looks and smells like an excuse isn’t an excuse.
Regardless, soldiering bravely through an injury a couple of games into a season in which the Knicks are capital-T Tanking seems questionable. If there is an injury, it’s likely negatively affecting his play; but if there is an injury, then he shouldn’t be playing in the first place. This becomes even more true when considering the Knicks depth at shooting guard, and Knicks fans would love to see rookie Damyean Dotson get some run.
As bad as THJ’s shooting slump has been, it’s at least explainable. Shooters are streaky, and slumps are par for the course. J.R Smith has started the season shooting 12 percent from beyond the arc, but it’s unlikely that Smith — a career 37 percent three-point shooter — has suddenly morphed into André Roberson.
More worrying than THJ’s three-point woes is his general lack of production beyond shooting the ball. His overall floor-game has been disastrous. He’s averaging a measly 1.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 2.3 free-throw attempts per game so far, and has yet to record a single steal or block in 91 minutes of NBA basketball. Even the staple statistical-crutch of a small sample size cannot mask how feeble these numbers are, especially given he’s playing a career high 30 minutes a contest.
If Hardaway Jr. wants to even begin to chip away at his lofty price tag, he has to do more than shoot. He has to rebound, make plays, get to the rim, and get easy points at the foul line — and do all this irrespective of whether his shot is falling or not, especially if his shot isn’t falling.
Tonight, the Knicks and THJ are playing a Brooklyn Nets team that has been rolling to start the season after coming off an impressive victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night. Coach Kenny Atkinson has the Nets playing an analytically inclined, three-point heavy style on offense, and utilizing a long and switch-y starting wing trio of Caris LaVert (6’7″), DeMarre Carroll (6’8″), and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (6’7″) on defense.
If the Knicks want to get their first win of the season, they’ll need Hardaway Jr. to step up and contribute. He’s a better shooter than he’s shown so far, and the shots will fall at some point, but the barometer for Timmy and his second bite at the Big Apple has always been the rest of the box score, where he needs to provide much more than his apathetic contributions so far.
It’s early in the season, sure, but Hardaway Jr. should be on a short leash if he carries on playing with the temperament and tenacity of a lost puppy. To be remembered only as another forgettable free agency footnote in a long line of big money Knick busts will be in his future if he can’t change that. Jerome James circa 2017.
Hopefully, the turnaround starts tonight for the $71 million man.