Why Tim Hardaway Jr. Is Better Than You Might Think

Tim Hardaway Jr. is, depending on who you ask, overpaid, underrated, a total scrub or a fringe All-Star. This article explains how one of his greatest flaws belies his best talent, and what he should do if he wants to secure a future with the Knicks.

In many ways, 2018 is a 'prove it' year for Tim Hardaway Jr.

The 26-year-old guard showed flashes of brilliance in the 2017-2018 season, at times looking like a semi-complete player who could provide good defense in spurts as well as functioning as a secondary playmaker when Ntilikina was struggling. His scoring was up and down throughout the season, but there was something to him that made you believe that with the right coach and the right supporting cast, he could be molded into a fringe All-Star. 

I remember talking myself into the fact that it was only after Porzingis went down that Timmy's bad habits started to rear themselves. "Of course Hardaway shot a 3 six seconds into the shot clock, Hornacek can't reign him in properly", I would say to myself. "It totally makes sense that Timmy takes 23 shots a night, who is he going to pass to, Lance Thomas?", I would think to myself.

The ultimate truth is Hardaway Jr. has always been an inconsistent player, which is one of the reasons why he has bounced from the NBA to the G-League and then back again. To his credit, Hardaway Jr. has outlined how his time spent in the developmental league put him back on the right track, but there is still room for improvement.

The biggest problem with Hardaway, and what was already apparent pre-Porzingis-ACL-tear, is his questionable shot selection. Last season he attempted around 7 three's per game while making a little more than 2 of them, resulting in an underwhelming 32% conversion rate. At least 1 or 2 of these three-point attempts per game would come from those afore-mentioned heaves with more than 20 seconds left on the shot clock, so theoretically Hardaway's percentages from three could be improved simply by exercising more prudence with his shot selection. Hopefully, Fizdale is the right coach to encourage that.

There's another reason why Hardaway's chucking from three is such a problem, but it's kind of a good problem to have. A big part of why it was so infuriating to watch him launch it from long distance last season was because when Timmy actually decided to put his head down and charge to the rim, he was actually pretty good at it. 

Some quick numbers, per Basketball-Reference: Hardaway made 64.2% of his shots taken within 3 feet of the rim last season, which puts him in good company amongst guards (Kyrie Irving, considered an elite finisher at the rim, made 64.9% of shots taken at a similar distance last season). In addition, Hardaway had somewhat of a career year in drawing fouls, shooting just over 3 free throws per game (and making 80% of them) for the first time. Continuing with our last example, Irving would take 4.4 free throw attempts per game; clearly better than Hardaway in this regard, but not as significantly as you might think.

The problem was that Hardaway was much more inclined to settle for a long distance shot rather than attempt to take it to the rack. A whopping 48% of Hardaway's field goal attempts last season came from beyond the arc, which is absurd for any NBA player not named Steph Curry. Even Kyrie Irving, who has his own predilections for ill-advised three's, had a lower attempt rate from long distance at 37%.

It may seem with all these comparisons that I'm trying to make Hardaway out to be some kind of Irving-lite, but believe me, that's not the case (not that it would justify his ridiculous contract anyway). Irving's ability to get anywhere on the court combined with his knack for clutch shot-making put him several tiers above Hardaway and other good-but-not-great NBA guards. What I'm trying to do is convey that Hardaway has certain strengths that, for whatever reason, he isn't playing into as much as he should be. 

The Knicks will begin this year's campaign lacking their star player Kristaps Porzingis, who is still rehabbing from an ACL tear endured in 2017. This will make Hardaway the number-one scoring option and veteran player on a team filled with rookies and reclamation projects, which is probably the last thing he needs right now. If Hardaway wishes to continue improving, he should focus more on looking for the right kind of shots rather than hoisting them up, ad-nauseam. Quality over quantity, if you will. He showed some talent as a secondary playmaker last year, posting career-high assist averages (2.7 per game). A realistic goal for Timmy this year might be to showcase himself as a more well-rounded offensive player; improving his shooting percentages while dishing out at least 3 dimes per game would go along way in demonstrating his value beyond a three chucker.

No one's asking him to win us games in a tanking year, so I think this is absolutely achievable for him. Whether he does or not will absolutely determine his NBA role in the future, either as a quality starting shooting guard, or an offensively-talented but flawed 6th man.

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