Much has been made of J.R. Smith’s offseason knee surgery and the suspension he’ll have to serve in the beginning of the season for failing a drug test. He’s been criticized (the Knicks, too) for a lack of accountability and responsibility in preparing for the season. However, what the Knicks will do in his absence hasn’t been discussed as much as the reasons for Smith’s absence.
Enter rookie Tim Hardaway Jr.
It’s entirely plausible that Mike Woodson may not even substitute another player in an already deep rotation to replace Smith. The Knicks can have Shumpert play more minutes in Smith’s absence, and the Knicks may go to two-point-guard lineups more often in order to fill the void in the back-court. However, if Woodson is looking to temporarily replace Smith, it may be Hardaway Jr.’s chance to prove himself worthy a spot in the rotation.
Mike Woodson has a strange, questionable disposition when it comes to playing rookies. That is, he doesn’t really like to play them. We saw this at times last year with Pablo Prigioni and Chris Copeland when Woodson would randomly deem it ineffective to play them and stick them to the bench. So, to begin with, Hardaway Jr. is already facing an uphill battle to crack the rotation.
However, in theory, he could fill a nice role on this team, especially without Smith. Hardaway Jr.’s M.O. in college was scoring, and he proved himself capable of carrying an offense with a blend of catch-and-shoot jumpers and off-the-dribble creation. The biggest criticism of his game, however, was that this ability to shoulder an offense ran hot and cold, and his shot selection could be questionable. With his potential role on the Knicks, these criticisms may prove themselves inconsequential.
Basically, the Knicks, when healthy, will always have a player capable of creating his own shot on the floor — be it Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, J.R. Smith or even Raymond Felton to a degree. Hardaway Jr. won’t be asked to create all that often; instead, he’ll act as a floor-spacer and a guy who could create his own show, perhaps on a broken play, or on a defense closing out on him.
In college, Hardaway shot 34% from beyond the arc, and that number jumps to 37% if a poor-shooting sophomore season is removed from the equation. So, Hardaway is capable of spacing the floor. Likewise, his off-the-dribble game is effective, especially in limited doses. In his sophomore year, he shot 46% off the dribble, a tremendous number, but just 31% of his pull-up jumpers in his junior year. According to his draft profile on DraftExpress, Hardaway Jr. is the rare type of scorer who shoots better off the dribble than off the catch. For his college career, Hardaway managed an impressive 1.01 points per shot on pull-up jumpers. With limited opportunities, this could make him a deadly weapon for the Knicks as a second or third option on the floor if he can adjust to the NBA game.
And that is also the key with THJ, as it is with any NBA rookie: can they adjust? They key for Hardaway Jr. would be accepting a smaller role with the Knicks, knowing he won’t be a key part of their offense, and then use his skills in fewer situations to become an efficient scorer. He’ll have to improve on catch-and-shoots as he’ll likely see more opportunities for open three-pointers given the defensive attention some of his teammates command. Similarly, he’ll need to learn to control himself and limit some of his trigger-happy ways. But with a noticeable hole at the two-guard to begin the season, it could be Hardaway Jr.’s chance to crack the rotation.
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