Tim Hardaway Jr.’s future with the New York Knicks hinges on embracing the role of the three-point assassin, but can he?
The plan is in place for the New York Knicks. Kristaps Porzingis will return healthy and continue his ascent to superstardom. Kevin Knox is the lengthy swingman that will feast on opposing defenses. Frank Ntilikina is the defensive stopper out on the perimeter. Meanwhile, Scott Perry committed robbery on draft night by nabbing Mitchell Robinson with the 36th pick. They have yet to prove anything, but the future appears to be bright for the first time in, well, a really long time.
So where does Tim Hardaway Jr. fall into this equation? Well, first off, Hardaway’s sizable contract should be noted, but that’s not exactly what we’re focusing on here. He’s entering his second season on a contract for just under $71 million over four years. That kind of money comes with high expectations — may be too high. But let’s focus on how Hardaway can craft his game to embrace a vital role for the Knicks.
Of course, there’s a chance that the Knicks move on from Hardaway by means of a trade this season or sometime next summer. But Hardaway will need to play well this season to convince a team to make that trade. No team is taking on his contract in exchange for 31 percent three-point shooting. That number needs to change drastically.
Hardaway needs to assume the role of the knockdown shooter. Last season, he attempted to fill the role of primary scorer for much of the season. THJ is best as a secondary option, and he should focus on becoming the guy who is just deadly running off of screens. Is he a good enough shooter to fill this role? Yes, but it’s all about developing consistency and taking the right shots. He was a below average shooter last season. In fact, he was in the 30th percentile among wings in three-point percentage last season per Cleaning the Glass.
That doesn’t look like the makings of a three-point assassin. But again, it’s about developing consistency and avoiding the major slumps. His most notable slump came during a 10-game stretch where Hardaway was 10-for-60 from deep. He broke out of that stretch with a 32-point outburst in the first half of a game against the Wizards. But he only managed five points in the second half and the Knicks blew a monstrous lead.
So there are flashes of brilliance in Hardaway, but there needs to be more consistency and efficiency from his game. There are a few things THJ can do to improve on his weak shooting numbers and fill the vital role of three-point assassin for the Knicks.
Better Movement Off The Ball
The best shooters in the league have a knack for finding the soft spots in the defense. Stephen Curry, Kyle Korver, Klay Thompson, Otto Porter, and Joe Ingles are a few names that come to mind when you think about off-ball movement. For shooters, relocating can be the easiest way to find an open look. It’s something that Hardaway has done well in the past.
When someone attacks the baseline, the opposite corner is a great place to relocate to. It makes it tough for the defender to find the shooter and gives that extra split-second needed to knock down the look. He did this twice in that first half against the Wizards. Last season, Hardaway didn’t shoot enough from the short corner. Only six percent of his shot attempts were corner threes. For a player who is supposed to be an excellent shooter, that number needs to be higher. It’s one of the most deadly areas of the floor.
Kyle Korver is one of the best in the league at finding the open space. It’s more than simply relocating to the corner from above the break when the ball is inside or going baseline. Korver shows the importance of finding the corner three no matter where he is on the court. As soon as LeBron James starts penetrating, Korver sprints from the paint to the corner and shows for the ball in one of the most dangerous zones for shooters.
But more than just relocating, Hardaway needs to do a better job coming off of screens. Look at the best shooters in the league. They are clinical in the way they use screens to find space. This is another thing Korver does so well. Particularly the double staggered screen with Korver cutting towards the top of the key.
He has such a good sense of where the defender is and whether or not he has enough room to get off his shot. It helps that he has a lightning quick release. In addition to Korver, Klay Thompson is one of the best guys in the league at this as well. Thompson doesn’t always run off his screens shoulder to shoulder, but he’s remarkable and reading his defender and getting to the spot where his defender can’t get to.
It’s worth noting again, Thompson has one of the quickest releases in the game — much like Korver — so this helps him get off so many shots off of screens. The point isn’t for THJ to become Korver or Thompson. Those guys are two of the best shooters in the history of the NBA. But he can learn from how these two move off the ball and put themselves in the best possible positions for open looks.
Don't Force Up Shots
This is something Hardaway certainly can fix. At times he falls victim to forcing up shots when he shouldn’t. Of course, Porzingis’ return will be a gigantic help. During KP’s injury, THJ has assumed the role of the primary scorer. Enes Kanter is a threat in the post, but Hardaway was the team’s most consistent scoring threat. By adding Porzingis back in the mix, teams will completely change their defensive gameplans to account for Porzingis’ gravity. This should open up space for THJ.
Additionally, the potential of Kevin Knox could bode well for Hardaway’s future. If Knox develops into the slasher that many believe he can become, that takes even more of the pressure off of Hardaway to create his own shot. It’s not that he can’t handle the added scoring responsibility, but he’s at his best when he allows the game to come to him.
On three separate plays, he forces the issue. Two of these plays were at pivotal points in the game where the tide was turning towards Washington. He drives the lane and misses a layup amidst five Wizards, he forces up a three with two defenders running him off the line, and he takes an off-balance midrange jumper with Beal right on his hip.
Granted, he was on fire in the first half, but most of his shots came within the flow of the offense. During his 32-point first half performance against the Wizards, an overwhelming majority of his shots were smart decisions.
When he plays within himself and takes good shots, he’s a legitimate scoring threat. On this uphill handoff action, he takes his time to square himself up to the basket and he nails the wide open jumper. If you want to argue that it’s a bad shot because it’s a midrange look, you can, but a made basket is still a made basket.
Put Up Or Shut Up Time
Plain and simple. Tim Hardaway Jr. needs to have a bounce-back season if the Knicks hope to reach their full potential. If they are winning in spite of him instead of because of him, there’s a problem. Slightly above 30 percent from three-point range won’t cut it. The playoffs don’t look likely this year with the uncertainty surrounding Kristaps Porzingis. But this year needs to be a springboard for the future.
The Knicks need to show potential free agents that they are trending in the right direction. Hardaway could play a vital role next season if he can avoid the long shooting droughts while sustaining the hot streaks for longer stretches.
Added firepower in the offense will certainly help, but Hardaway should also make a concerted effort to improve his off-ball movement if he wants to become one of the most feared three-point shooters in the league. He can become the three-point assassin Knicks fans hoped he would. Whether he turns into Klay Thompson or Kyle Korver is probably a stretch. But there’s no doubt he can become close to a 40 percent shooter from deep and help space the floor for the shot creators like Porzingis and Knox.