New York Knicks: Projecting Tim Hardaway Jr.'s 2017-18 Season
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 26: Tim Hardaway Jr. #10 of the Atlanta Hawks celebrates after scoring against the Washington Wizards in the first half of Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2017 NBA Playoffs at at Verizon Center on April 26, 2017 in Washington, DC.(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) 

What kind of season will Tim Hardaway Jr. have? Here are our projections for the New York Knicks shooting guard.

The 2017-18 regular season opens for the New York Knicks on Oct. 18 on the road against the Oklahoma City Thunder. As the big night approaches, I’ll project each player’s output for the upcoming season. I’m going to first look at their previous offensive output before talking about their defense. Then I’ll tell you what they’re going to do in 2016-17. The first subject is new shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr.

Training over the summer with Dwyane Wade – and receiving high praise from the future Hall of Famer – sent a message that Hardaway is ready to earn that new contract. The one that made fans groan and made the league laugh the Knicks one more time.

Even Hardaway was shocked when the New York Knicks signed him to a $71 million offer sheet. His old team traded him away just two years earlier; why did they want him back and why were they willing to pay so much for his services? If Carmelo Anthony‘s traded, someone has to put the ball in the basket.

The Offense

The primary reason Hardaway was able to nail down such a massive contract was an increase in his scoring output last season. He averaged a career high of 14.5 points per game on career highs of 11.5 field goal attempts and 5.3 three-point attempts. He was 45.5 percent from the field while converting at a 35.7 percent clip from three-point range.

Hardaway was efficient on spot up plays. He scored 1.15 points per possession (85th percentile) on 265 possessions (catch and shoot or catch and drive) with an effective field goal percentage of 57.6 percent. As impressive as those numbers look, the newest Knick can be even better.

Hardaway, 25, can improve even more as a shooter in his greatest NBA role yet. He’s known as a spot up guy, but during his four years in the league, he’s been pretty inconsistent.

The point is that he can be even better. Two hundred players launched at least 100 catch and shoot threes last season. Hardaway didn’t place in the top 100 in percentage. According to NBA.com, he converted on just 36.7 percent of his mid range attempts last season. That’s far below the league average of 40 percent.

Hardaway is known as a shooter, but will also be an asset in the fast break. He was in the top-20 in transition possessions (via NBA.com) with 229 and finished in the 65th percentile of efficiency. Derrick Rose was the only Knick with over 200 transition possessions, and he was in just the 54th percentile scoring a measly 1.11 points per possession.

He scored a total of 237 fast break points last season. He’s a threat the franchise has needed for a long time. One they thought Rose would give them. The Knicks haven’t had a player total 200 fast break points in a season since Stephon Marbury did it back in 2004-05. Only two Knicks have done it in the last 20 years: Marbury and Latrell Sprewell.

An increase in shots and minutes naturally led to an increase in points for Hardaway. It was his highest usage percentage outside of 2014-15 in New York when the team won 17 games. At just 22 years old, the inexperienced Hardaway was below 40 percent from the field while finishing second in shots on a team without Carmelo Anthony for a majority of the season.

It was too early for Hardaway to take a featured role on a team back then. Now it’s the time for him to step up. With that big money contract and the expected absence of Anthony, somebody will need to help Kristaps Porzingis. In his greatest role yet, Hardaway should put up the most points of his career.

The Defense

Quantifying defense with statistics is hard. Even the advanced metrics are flawed in some way. One metric we can look at with typically good consistency is ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus system.

The top two players in DRPM last season were Rudy Gobert and Draymond Green. DRPM can get it wrong too. For example, Kawhi Leonard was 19th among small forwards in DRPM last season. It’s not just about one season but more of a pattern of behavior. DRPM has been around since the 2013-14 season. How has the player performed since then?

In Tim Hardaway’s case, it would be not so good. In 2013-14 – his rookie season – he placed dead last among 55 qualified shooting guards in DRPM (-4.89). The following year wasn’t much better as he placed 66th out of 69 (-3.39).

After the trade to Atlanta, many assumed his defense would improve under head coach Mike Budenholzer. Instead, Hardaway was so bad on defense during his first year with the Hawks that he was sent down to the D-league on multiple occasions.

Two years in Atlanta and he finished 43rd and 56th in DRPM out of 76 and 94 shooting guards respectively. Hardaway isn’t the wildly inept kid Knicks fans remember, but he certainly isn’t Tony Allen on the wing either.

At this point it might sound like a cliche: Tim Hardaway Jr.’s terrible on defense. Unfortunately, it’s not. Becoming an average defender would be a massive improvement for this guy.

Projections

Points Per Game: 15.8

More shots means more points for Tim Hardaway Jr. It’s not rocket science. He’s going to be the No. 2 scoring option next to Kristaps Porzingis, assuming Melo is traded.

Assists Per Game: 2.1

Last season was Hardaway’s career-high in assists with a whopping 2.3 per game. In three seasons prior, he posted a whopping 0.8, 1.8, and 1.0 per game. Pretty brutal. Don’t expect him to turn into Steve Nash.

The lion’s share of the assists are likely to go to points guards Ramon Sessions, Ron Baker, and Frank Ntilikina. In Jeff Hornacek’s fast break up-tempo offense, Hardaway will more likely be finishing; or as Clyde Frazier would say swishing rather than dishing.

Shooting Percentages: .456/.361/.794

This is probably my hardest stance so far, but I think Hardaway’s percentage will go up along with his points. It’s easy to say he’ll be a volume scorer. If he takes smarter shots – more specifically smarter three-point shots – that will help make my prediction come true.

Steals Per Game: 0.9 (Generous)

There seems to be this prevailing theory that steals is an overrated statistic in the NBA. Well, maybe the fact that Tim Hardaway Jr. is a very athletic guard who’s never recorded more than 55 steals in a season shouldn’t be a big deal?

I don’t think so. Hardaway has the gifts to be a vulture around the ball and in the passing lane, but it won’t happen over night. I’ll be generous and say he almost hits the one steal per game mark. The guy is putting in work after all. Hopefully, some of that’s on defense.

PER: 15.5

The league average in PER is 15 in every season. Hardaway’s career PER is 13.2 after achieving a career-high rating of 15.2 last season. His first three years his rating was a combined 12.3.

This is another sign of THJ’s improvement. According to John Hollinger’s guide to PER, a player with a rating of 12.3 doesn’t belong in an NBA rotation. A player with a rating of 15.2 is above a rotation player; they’re a slightly above-average player.

That’s where most rational people would put Hardaway right now. He’s not the second scoring option the Knicks would like him to be, but right now he’s the best they got.

 

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