Is Tim Hardaway Jr. the New York Knicks' Shooting Guard of the Future?

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Is Tim Hardaway Jr. the New York Knicks' Shooting Guard of the Future?
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

As far as lucrative endeavors go, using the Las Vegas Summer League to accurately project future NBA talent is about as advisable as, well, just about any other supposed moneymaker one might stumble upon in Sin City.

At the same time, the showcase can be a great tool for determining whether certain, more established players are prepared—be it evidenced by focus, fight or pure production—to make that next-level leap.

That Tim Hardaway Jr. averaged 22.8 points on 44 percent shooting (including a 38 percent clip from deep) wasn't in and of itself a franchise-changing development for the New York Knicks.

Rather, it's how Hardaway did it that gave fans a glimpse of what might well be the team's shooting guard of the future.

Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

A more skeptical commentator would posit that New York's second-year guard, who never fired fewer than 12 attempts in his five-game Vegas run, might've been a tad too aggressive in his shot-hunting.

By taking shots from players legitimately fighting for their NBA lives, the thinking goes, players like Hardaway are robbing the staff of uncovering potential diamonds in the rough.

Still, it isn't hard to appreciate the alternative take: To better prepare himself for what stands to be an increased role, being aggressive was, and remains, of the utmost.

In an arena where the competition is by and large inferior, it only makes sense for the more seasoned players to make degree of difficulty part of their repertoire—in Hardaway's case, pull-up three-pointers two full feet behind the line and with a hand in his face.

Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

To be sure, Hardaway's rookie season featured heat checks aplenty. That kind of decision-making won't be granted nearly as long a leash under first-year coach (and steadfast triangle disciple) Derek Fisher even if Hardaway's overall presence in the offense is bound to blossom.

Despite his relative inexperience, Hardaway has already garnered favor from team president Phil Jackson. As ESPN New York's Ian Begley recently reported, New York is weighing its options for trading Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Shane Larkin, presumably for more frontcourt depth or additional future assets.

Hardaway, meanwhile, has been deemed "virtually untouchable," according to Begley.

With two years and over $12 million remaining on his current deal (including a second-year player option), Smith could prove a tough sell for Jackson. As such, it seems more likely the mercurial shooting guard will eventually be reassigned to his longtime role of sixth man extraordinaire.

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

As for which of Shumpert and Hardaway stands the better chance of becoming New York's 2-guard of the future, it's a debate that’s been raging amongst Knicks fans ever since the latter was nabbed with the 24th overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Bleacher Report's Frank Cesare makes the case—statistically as well as strategically—for the former Michigan standout:

Unlike Hardaway Jr., who knows he could become an All-Star in the NBA, Shumpert might be shortchanging himself by entertaining his struggles instead of transcending them.

At the current moment it's close, but Hardaway Jr. has more upside than Shumpert and is more likely to reach his full potential. The combination of confidence and range sets him up to be a premier contributor for years to come.

While Shumpert should develop into one of the league's best man-to-man defenders, his offense may never reach the level some had anticipated upon his arrival to the NBA, and therefore, his future isn't as bright.

Such analysis doesn't preclude New York from keeping them both, of course. But as a practical exercise, it's important for Jackson to figure out which coin has the best chance of turning up heads.

Offensively, Hardaway arrived NBA-side with the much more polished game—as adept at canning the corner three as he is attacking the tin in transition. And while he still has a ways to go before he can be considered a par defender, Hardaway's tenacity and work ethic are bound to yield dividends in that department.

Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

But there's another, more immediately pressing reason for Jackson wanting to roll the dice on the younger Hardaway: With three full seasons until the Knicks have to consider a qualifying offer, Hardaway's price-to-potential ratio is through the roof.

Considering the Knicks just inked Carmelo Anthony to a fresh five-year, $124 million deal, having that kind of flexibility isn't simply desirable; it's essential.

Fortunately for Knicks fans, Hardaway seems to appreciate just how crucial a cog he stands to be in New York's near-future plans.

"Nothing has changed," said Hardaway in a March interview with RealGM.com's Andrew Perna. "I'm still the guy to bring energy, the guy who will come off the bench and do whatever the team needs me to do. I try to get the ball, make plays and go out there and make shots. Whatever the coaches want to see from me."

Jack Arent/Getty Images

A confident stroke, vocal leadership, the bulked-up body of someone clearly committed to hitting the weight room: It's safe to say Fisher, who marshaled the Knicks during their recent summer league stint, saw plenty to be excited about from his sophomore gunner.

In an era where the shooting guard position has arguably never been weaker, Hardaway has a golden opportunity to assert himself as a top-tier prospect at the positionperhaps a future All-Star if all breaks right.

At the very least, though, Hardaway's stellar summer league showing—ripe as it was with a composure and cocksure confidence that belies the 22-year-old's rawness—revealed anew just how high his upside really is.

High enough, even, to make him a New York hero for years to come.

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