Tim Hardaway Jr.’s New York Knicks career started off promising. He looked better than most expected, making an immediate offensive splash and crashing the glass right out of the gate in the NBA Summer League.
He busted out with 13 points and five rebounds in his Knicks premiere—Game 1 against the New Orleans Pelicans.
He looked capable and multi-tooled in the condensed highlights from the game, showcasing the 15-footer, a three-point shot, dunking (off the alley-oop) and an ability to penetrate and pick up the foul:
But what you didn’t see in the clip was his poor defense. In the full highlights, Hardaway looked a bit slow to catch up to his man and at times got stuck in his shoes as opposing offenses ran around him.
He followed up with nine points on 50 percent shooting in just the first quarter of Game 2 vs. the Washington Wizards, including this dunk where he moved and looked uncannily like his pop:
Then, as reported by Jim Baumbach at Newsday, Hardaway got hurt, cutting short our look at—and the team’s evaluation of—the No. 24 pick of the 2013 draft.
The Knicks rookie suffered [a bruised left wrist] toward the end of the first quarter when he tripped during a fast break and broke his fall with his non-shooting hand. The Knicks said X-rays taken at halftime were negative.
He didn’t return to the game or the summer league, but he is good to go for the opener.
For those concerned about Tim Hardaway Jr.'s wrist sprain, agent Mark Bartelstein says he should be at "full speed" within a couple days.— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) July 26, 2013
We’ll have to wait until later this year to see if he has the right pro stuff, though, and not just because of that wrist. New York’s backcourt is now officially crowded with the signing of point guard Beno Udrih, per Brian Windhorst of ESPN.
At the 1, the Knicks now have starter Raymond Felton, combo-guard Pablo Prigioni and Udrih. At the 2, they have Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith.
Hardaway Jr. slips in as the third shooting guard on the depth chart. He’s not a point guard and doesn’t play like one. He's behind Shumpert, who will be back up to 25-28 minutes per game, and Smith, who will play over 30 minutes.
Prigioni, too, might see time at shooting guard, if head coach Mike Woodson continues with dual-point guard sets. It will be a tough decision pitting past success versus current roster, but that’s for another article.
Where does Hardaway get a foothold? He is going to have to earn his court time, and it is going to take awhile before he sniffs the hardwood.
For the Knicks, this is all good. He bolsters an already deep backcourt, and that's all they need him from right now.
When he eventually garners some minutes—earlier in the season in blowouts but mostly later to preserve others for the playoffs—here’s what to expect, according to the stats and scouting reports.
In three years at Michigan, Hardaway averaged 14.3 points on 43 percent shooting. He finished with a soft 2.1 assists per game but a notable 4.7 rebounds.
As a measure of comparative potential, Shumpert had a worse line at Georgia Tech for two of his three college years, but in the end he turned out to be the better and more NBA-ready player.
Hardaway needs some work at the professional level and will grow more slowly from clock-eater and pitch-in contributor to important role player. This won’t happen all in 2013-14, which has gotten off to a delayed start for him as it is.
[Hardaway is] a well-rounded weapon who can stretch the floor, get out on the fast break with his athleticism, make smart passes, and put the ball on the floor to score…a capable straight-line slasher who can attack holes in the defense and take the corner when he has a step on his man…a fairly reliable finisher…defensively effective, [but] lacks great strength and won't create many turnovers.
That’s a perfect fit for these Knicks, actually, and he was a good draft pick for the reasons above more than skill alone. New York doesn’t need another primary defender, with Shumpert, Tyson Chandler and now Metta World Peace handling that end of the floor.
The Knicks could use some slashing penetration, which the team is capable of but fails to employ regularly.
Hardaway Jr. is no Hardaway Sr. when it comes to accuracy, but the former has the potential to be a 45 percent (38 percent from three) shooter.
And Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani will relish all the spacing they can get.
The biggest concern about Hardaway’s play has less to do with his talent and everything to do with his lack of consistency.
Unfortunately on this roster, it will take some time before he gets a shot at consistent playing time. Somewhere along his contract through 2016-17, though, he’ll get it, and that will be when he makes or breaks his Knicks and NBA career.