Late in ESPN’s coverage of the Sunday showdown between the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks, Mike Tirico—in response to the classification of Carmelo Anthony as "great scorer, but not a great winner"—had this to say:
"To those people, I would only offer: Who is the best player he’s ever played with?"*
It’s an instructive question, to be sure—particularly given Anthony’s reluctance to commit to the Knicks long-term.
Tirico then posed a question with which Knicks Knation has grown all too familiar:
Should 'Melo re-sign with the Knicks, whom can they go and find to help him out?
Tim Hardaway Jr. might know a guy.
On a day when an Anthony encore wasn’t quite enough, Hardaway’s 18 points (on 7-12 shooting, including 4-5 from deep) helped spur the Knicks to a 110-103 home win on Sunday afternoon.
Through the tumult of his team’s roller-coaster season, Hardaway’s mix of three-point prowess, open-floor grace and peerless control around the rim have helped endear him to a fanbase desperate for a home-grown star to call their own.
Looking at how he stacks up against his fellow fresh-faced rookies, the expectation might not be so outlandish.
According to ESPN.com, Hardaway currently ranks second among all rookies in points per 48 minutes (20.8—second only to former University of Michigan backcourt mate Trey Burke), second in field-goal percentage (45 percent) and second in three-point shooting (39 percent).
It’s an impressive early resume, especially when you consider Hardaway’s place on a veteran-laden team disinclined to play its youngsters merely for the sake of their development.
In light of J.R. Smith’s well-noted struggles, many are wondering whether it’s high time to think about letting Hardaway—so similar in style, if not in experience—start to take the sixth-man reins.
And while some would point to Smith’s statistics from a season ago—when he took home the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award—as reason enough to ride out the Earl Smith storm, when compared on a per-36 minute basis, the case for Hardaway Jr. only gets stronger.
|J.R., Jr.? (All stats per-36 minutes)|
|J.R. Smith (2012-13)||18.8||.426||.367||.583|
|Tim Hardaway, Jr. (2013-14)||15.6||.453||.393||.540|
To be sure, given extended minutes, Hardaway’s defensive ineptitude (note the 113 rating) would most certainly make him a bigger liability. That makes upping Hardaway’s minutes in the short-term—with the Knicks desperate for any win and any defensive stop they can get—a risky proposition.
Looking ahead to the future, however, there’s plenty to like about Hardaway’s potential at both ends of the floor.
It’s reasonable to expect Hardaway, whose 6'6" frame screams length and lank in equal measure, to fill in and bulk up over his first few seasons. The added strength should help him better hold his own when posting up against bigger opponents, while giving him more stamina with which to navigate through perimeter picks.
On offense, the sky’s the limit.
Need proof? Check out this nifty video.
Shooting, ball-handling, passing, knocking down the open jumper—Hardaway’s prowess on these fronts is nothing if not NBA-ready.
Which brings us back to this piece’s raison d'etre: Can he be a reliable secondary option should the Knicks continue to build around Carmelo Anthony?
On Friday, we went over in exhaustive detail how the James Dolan-era Knicks have turned draft-pick squandering into a high, hideous art.
So when the team finally manages to draft a player whose promise outstrips his stock, the reactions—particularly from Knicks fans—are bound to reflect the years of jilted hopes.
Convincing Anthony to stick around—whatever the price—and having Hardaway be a Robin-in-waiting certainly sounds risky on its face.
Then again, the risk for 'Melo will exist no matter where he goes—save for an unlikely alliance with the Miami Heat.
If you’re 'Melo, there has to be an appeal, however deep-seated, to sticking with the city that gave up the farm to bring you home.
And on that long list of reasons why Anthony should stay, the potential of New York’s lanky legacy kid—all booming bravado and sneering snarl and a hell of a basketball player to boot—has to be close to the top.
*Paraphrased from ESPN's Sunday telecast of Knicks-Lakers.