Fans and the media alike are roasting New York Knicks swingman Tim Hardaway Jr. for his play so far in the 2017-18 season. These critics expected too much from the $71 million man.
Tim Hardaway Jr. had just finished up one of those games when the box score doesn’t tell the whole story. At first glance, his stat line reads 37 points on 14-of-24 shooting. It looked like he carried the pathetic New York Knicks all night long against the playoff-bound Washington Wizards. Look a little closer, and you’ll see that 32 of those points came in the first half (via NBA.com).
When the Knicks were falling apart after blowing a 27-point lead from late in the first half, Hardaway disappeared. He shot just 2-of-10 in the second half and recorded only 5 points. Hardaway took charge of the offense in the first half. His usage percentage in the first 24 minutes was 35.5 percent. In the second half, it was a measly 23.8 percent. But this is who Hardaway is. He’s always been a streaky, inconsistent player. So why did anyone think he’d be more than that in his second tenure in New York?
Hardaway played 281 mostly unremarkable games during his first four seasons in the NBA. In that span, he averaged 11 points per game on a slash line of .427/.352/.803. The 25-year-old had fewer win shares than former Knicks legend Jose Calderon.
He played two seasons in New York and Atlanta and split them both down the middle. He had a good one and a bad one with each squad. He showed flashes, but also flaws, and it was apparently more of the latter because both organizations were able to move on from him.
Being the son of former Knicks playoff nemesis Tim Hardaway Sr. made Jr. a lightning rod for the media the moment he was drafted in New York. He adjusted well. Hardaway played 81 games as a rook and shot the ball at a 36.3 percent clip from three-point range. There was a lot of hype going into his second season.
They quickly faded during that dreadful as the Knicks won just 17 games. Hardaway was one of many who didn’t adjust well to the triangle offense being run by new head coach Derek Fisher and president Phil Jackson. A sophomore slump following a promising rookie season led Phil Jackson to exile Hardaway to the Atlanta Hawks.
Hardaway bombed out during his first year with Atlanta. At 24 years old, he was making regular trips back and forth to the D-league. Those trips to the minor leagues must’ve flipped a switch in Hardaway because he had a supposed breakout year in 2016-17. He averaged career-highs in points, rebounds, assists, and field goal percentage. It was the final year of his rookie contract, and he was set to become a restricted free agent.
RFAs never leave. Their current team always matches the deal. The Miami Heat matched Tyler Johnson‘s deal for $50 million. Tyler freaking Johnson. So a young swingman with potential isn’t going anywhere, right? Wrong. The Knicks swooped in with their $71 million offer sheet. It was reportedly about $20 million higher than Atlanta was willing to go, by the way.
Some people may have expected too much out of Hardaway because of the money. It could be as simple as that. Some foolish fans even defended the contract. There’s no denying Hardaway’s shown flashes of greatness with four 30-point games. One being his career-high 38 in a huge early season win against the Raptors. There have been nights, even when Kristaps Porzingis was healthy when he’s kept the crowd energized.
He was brought here to be Porzingis’ sidekick, at least in the short term. And so far they’ve played together admirably. New York is outscoring opponents by 3.1 points per 100 possessions when their two best players are on the court. Unfortunately, the bad outweighs the good.
Hardaway has played 37 games at the All-Star break, and he’s shooting a career-low 31.7 percent from three-point range. Yes, his points are up. His shots are also up, and he’s yet to adjust to that type of volume. His 16.7 points are coming on 14.6 FGA. Hardaway is launching over seven shots a game from beyond the three-point arc.
He’s in the 68th percentile of efficiency on spot-up plays. These aren’t great numbers for a guy who’s supposedly a “knockdown” three-point shooter. THJ is making 35 percent of his catch and shoot threes to only 30 percent of his pull up long balls.
However, the former All-Rookie first team performer is performing well from three-point range in one particular instance. That’s when he’s “wide open.” NBA.com defines that as when the closest defender is within 6 or more feet of the shooter. Hardaway is converting those at a sky-high 40.3 percent clip. Too bad that with Porzingis out he won’t get any open looks because he’s needed them.
Even when Hardaway is just “open” (closest defender within 4-6 feet of him) he’s only making 32.3 percent of his three-point attempts. Forget about when he’s actually got a defender contesting him. When things are “tight” (closest defender within 2-4 feet) he’s making a pathetic 23.1 percent of his attempts from the outside.
Tim Hardaway Jr. is a streaky and inconsistent player who electrifies the crowd one minute with his shimmy and antagonizes them the next with his terrible shot selection. This is who he is.
Hardaway isn’t going to score 20 points every single night. He’s not that dependable. While he’s had four 30-point games, Hardaway has also had nine games when he scored in single digits. That includes his 1-of-10 night against Boston in their 30-point blowout loss and his 1-of-14 game in a two-point loss against Milwaukee. If he’d only made a couple more shots in that one.
Scoring 32 points in one half and 5 points in the next is peak Tim Hardaway Jr. Hell, that could end up being his shining moment as a Knick. The first half anyway. It sure was fun to watch. And that’s what Tim Hardaway Jr. is. Just don’t expect anything more than fun.