There haven’t been a lot of bright spots this year for the New York Knicks. However, if there’s been a positive this season, a positive to grow on, it has been rookie guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. The Knicks selected the promising, dynamic guard from the University of Michigan with the 24th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. This could possibly be the sleeper of the draft, as he continues to show Coach Woodson he belongs in the NBA and on the floor during games.
The other night the New York crowd came in to watch Carmelo Anthony following his record breaking 62 point performance. However, the patrons left the Garden talking about Hardaway. Hardaway’s 18 points (on 7-12 shooting, including 4-5 from deep) helped spur the Knicks to a 110-103 home win on Sunday afternoon. He did this with only 26 minutes of playing time. Woodson must step up and play this young future superstar. He adds a dynamic, an infusion of energy that far exceeds what J.R. Smith or any Knick outside of Anthony has to offer.
Dec 18, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; New York Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (5) during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center. New York won 107-101 in double overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Who would have thought at the beginning of the season of the season that the 24th overall pick out of Michigan would possibly surpass starter Iman Shumpert and reigning Sixth Man of the Year Smith as the best shooting guard on the roster. But, as both Shumpert and Smith have struggled amid a flurry of trade rumors, shoelace incidents, coaching quarrels, etc., Hardaway’s stock just continues to rise with each minute he plays.
If Woodson learned anything from his win over the Lakers, he should have learned that picking up the pace helps all the players and Carmelo Anthony on offense. Against the Lakers, the Knicks had five players in double figures, they showed a chemistry as well as a late game resilience not seen this season. As good as Anthony was, Hardaway could be the missing link to this teams future.
Knick fans and Woodson must face the facts: last year was last year. Why start Felton and Pablo Prigioni? That worked last year. This is a new year a new team and Hardaway is new member of this team. With Bargnani out, no player on the floor is an offensive threat to support Anthony. By starting Hardaway, the Knicks can continue not only with small ball, but with a secondary offensive threat needed to win. Smith can still be the first man off the bench for either Shumpert or Hardaway. Pablo Prigioni can come in and increase the pace if Felton falters. With players not able to leave Hardaway alone Felton was able to better penetrate, playing his best game of the season with 20 points and 5 assists.
Hardaway offers this team more than just a pure jumper. He excels on the fast break, capable of highlight-reel finishes and high-percentage shots at the rim even when multiple defenders are in position. He showed against the Lakers his ability to drive to the basket and finish.
Hardaway has good size at 6’6′, he can shoot the three, but most impressive is the energy and intensity he brings to the court. Against the Lakers his energy was contagious.
I loved him in Vegas and wrote then that he was the real deal. Coaches brag that Hardaway is a self starter, not a player that needs to be pushed to get the most out of his abilities . He was raised and mentored by his father, who had a Hall of Fame NBA career. His father was known to push his son to be the best he could be. He obviously succeeded.
Hardaway has impressed his teammates with his maturity and proven to be a hard worker, a player who competes to the best of his ability whenever given the opportunity. He embraces his role as a rookie within a team of stars and when he is not playing, he is cheering on the sidelines. Hubie Brown said “he shows great form on his shot and is one of the most impressive rookies this year.”
Hardaway would excel as a starter and should be given the opportunity. Woodson has historically slowed down young players as he did with Teague in Atlanta. If I am right, Hardaway could be the spark the Knicks need to advance this season. Let him show Anthony he has a mature, consistent running mate. One who stays active and moves well off the ball and is an alternate offensive weapon. Hardaway in the second half against the Lakers showed he does a good job of freeing himself and shooting off of screens. Like ex-Knick sharpshooter Steve Novak, Hardaway has become an efficient spot-up option from deep, particularly when Carmelo Anthony kicks the ball out of double-teams.
Starting Hardaway makes sense, with him on the floor, he can free up Shumpert, he can lead the fast break and this will open up the floor for Anthony. Starting Hardaway will allow him to continue to grow to develop to his potential. Woodson has complained about his defense, ( never Felton’s) but it appears his defense gets better each game. Hardaway’s defensive shortcomings don’t stem from his lack of effort or technique. Hardaway at 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds simply lacks the strength to stand toe-to-toe with some other players at his position. But with his work ethic, it is just a matter of time. According to ESPN.COM, Hardaway currently ranks second among all rookies in points per 48 minutes (20.8—second only to former University of Michigan backcourt mate Trey Burke), second in field-goal percentage (45 percent) and second in three-point shooting (39 percent)
Hardaway will soon be chosen to the rookie team for the All-Star game where again he will stand out as one of the top rookies in the 2013 class. Now Woodson must do his job and play him, let him grow, not stunt his growth as he has Shumpert’s.
Dr. Eric Kaplan is a Bestselling author www.5 minutemotivator.com
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