Tim Hardaway Jr. Is Thriving on the Knicks
There was much skepticism surrounding Tim Hardaway Jr.’s huge contract from the New York Knicks just this past offseason. But early on in this season, he is proving his doubters wrong. He is averaging 17.8 points per game through 14 games, which is second on the team behind Kristaps Porzingis. In his first year as a bonafide starter, he is thriving as the Knicks are an early season surprise.
The contract in question is a four-year, $71 million contract to return to the team that drafted him. That’s right. The Knicks drafted Hardaway Jr. in 2013, but ended up trading him to the Atlanta Hawks after only two seasons. This meant that once the Hawks offered him a qualifying contract in the offseason, he became a restricted free agent. Thus, in turn, they could match offers for Hardaway Jr.
The Hawks were rumored to be interested in matching mostly any reasonable deal for Hardaway Jr. Which brings us to the Knicks, who are no strangers to bizarre offseason moves. They offered the huge contract in hopes the Hawks would not match. And they were right. They got their man at a price that left everyone shaking their heads. Mostly because they could have avoided this situation if they held onto him in the first place. But hey, it’s the Knicks. When have they made things easy?
But what if I were to tell you that the Hardaway Jr. deal was a good move? The Knicks had the cap space to burn a few extra million for a player they thought would fit. And there is little arguing that fit now. Hardaway Jr. has helped the Knicks to a surprising early season start and is building off the success he had as a role player on the Hawks last season, when he averaged 14.5 points per game. And at 25 years old, he still has room to improve as a player too.
And there are definitely still parts of Hardaway Jr.’s game that need improvement. His shooting percentage from both three and the field in general is considerably down compared to his career average and from what he shot last season in Atlanta. He is only shooting 41% from the field, compared to 45.5% last season. He also shot nearly 36% from three point range last season, but is under 31% to start this year off. So for as well as he is playing, he can get even better as we move further along this season. And if his recent play is any indication, he might be hitting his stride as we speak.
He has taken on a bigger role and is providing great production on the scoring end to compliment Porzingis. Most importantly, he has shown the ability to rise to the challenge when Porzingis is having an off night, or not playing at all. Hardaway Jr. has scored 26 or more points in three of his last four games and shot better than 46% in those three games. He is starting to heat up, which will only lead to more success for himself and the Knicks this season.
Having a second scoring option on the Knicks is vital if they want to make the playoffs this year. Which is a weird thing to say, considering how low their expectations were entering the season. However, they have surged to an 8-6 record and have looked energized doing so. A large part of that is due to the energy Hardaway Jr. provides on offense. He plays at the up-tempo pace a Jeff Hornacek teams looks for.
Their comeback win against the Jazz is the best example thus far of what the Knicks can be as a team this season. Porzingis had a good, not great game and the Knicks were trailing entering the fourth quarter. That is when Hardaway Jr. took the game over and scored 14 of his team high 26 points in the fourth to lead the Knicks to victory. Porzingis is great and a budding superstar. But he’s only 22 and can’t do it all.
What Hardaway Jr. has done in this recent stretch of games is very promising for his future and the future of the Knicks. Having two players with the ability to win games in the fourth is a dangerous element to guard for opposing teams. And perhaps by season’s end the narrative of Hardaway Jr.’s large contract will be a story of the past.