The news that the New York Knicks will be without Tim Hardaway Jr. for at least the next weeks is even worse than you may think.
The New York Knicks have had two players average 20 points per game in the same season just once in nearly four decades. Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire both did it in Melo’s shortened 2010-11 debut season in New York. The Knicks hope that Tim Hardaway Jr. can team up with Kristaps Porzingis to buck the trend.
But he can’t do that from the bench. New York’s worst fears were realized about Hardaway’s on Tuesday. His injury is more serious than they’d hoped. Their second-leading scorer will be out for at least two weeks. This has a significant impact on the already slumping Knicks.
One of many castoffs from the Phil Jackson era, Hardaway came back to the Big Apple with a giant chip on his shoulder. The mass mockery surrounding his enormous free agent contract only served as motivation. He’s channeled all that into a surprising start; depending on who you talked to before the season.
They’ve lost five of their last six games, and Kristaps Porzingis is only probable to return to Wednesday’s game vs. Memphis. New York’s saving grace is a soft schedule. Their next five games are all against non-playoff teams. Now let’s take a closer look at just how deep an impact Hardaway’s injury will have on this team.
While he hasn’t been the most efficient scorer — just 42 percent from the field and 31.6 percent from three-point range –, Hardaway’s bounced back nicely from his pathetic start. Take away those first four games, and the $71 million man is putting up quality numbers.
In his last 17 games, the 25-year-old is averaging 34.6 minutes, 19.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.4 steals on a slash line of .448/.336/.815. That’s enough of a sample size to know what Hardaway can do in his new team’s offense.
New York went 10-7 in those 17 contests. They lost three of four during Hardaway’s early slump. The concern is the drop off in play when he’s not on the court. It’s matched only by Porzingis’ absence.
When Hardaway is on the court, New York plays like a top-five offense scoring 107.6 points per 100 possessions (via NBA.com). Without him, they are barely better than the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls are trying to lose by the way.
Hardaway has an on/off court net rating of 11 points per 100 possessions. The only Knick with one greater is Porzingis at 12.4. KP’s offensive rating is a little higher than Hardaway’s. You know, because he’s a little better.
The rapport that Hardaway has already developed with some of his teammates — Porzingis in particular — is something you can’t manufacture. The numbers are there; these guys play well together.
When Hardaway and Porzingis are sharing the court, New York outscores opponents by 4 points per 100 possessions. Take Hardaway’s four-game slump out of things, and it’s a whopping 7.3 points per 100 possessions. But it’s not just Porzingis.
Hardaway’s on-court numbers with New York’s point guards are fantastic. Especially given that both players are averaging both six points per game. When Hardaway is on the court with Jarrett Jack, New York scores 111.3 points per 100 possessions (via NBA.com).
With Frank Ntilikina, it’s significantly less at 105.8, but the defensive metric — 101.0 — shows just how good Frank can be on that side of the ball because it certainly isn’t Hardaway’s strong suit.
It’s the numbers on New York’s future “big three” that are so encouraging. When Hardaway shared the court with Frank and Porzingis, they are outscoring teams by a phenomenal 32.1 points per 100 possessions. It’s not just fun to see them out there together, but fun to watch them dominate.
But it’s not just Hardaway who this injury impacts. This is felt around the rotation.
New York started Damyean Dotson the last two games in Hardaway’s place, and the rookie scored 11 points on 11 shots. That’s not a knock on Dotson. He’s probably a better defender than Hardaway. He’s a second-round pick though; he won’t be asked to pick up Hardaway’s scoring slack.
That job will likely fall to Michael Beasley. The same Michael Beasley who compared himself to LeBron James and Kevin Durant before the season. Until now, those big projections have predictably looked like nonsense.
Beasley’s averaging less than 20 minutes per game and he’s reached 15 points only twice. Some of those available minutes will fall to him. Whether or not he can do anything with them remains to be seen.
New York has a lot to replace in Hardaway’s absence. It’s not just 18 points and 35 quality minutes a night. It’s the chemistry of this team. For the first time in many years, there is a Knicks team that plays hard and as a team. Hardaway is at the center of that.