Feb 15, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New York Knicks guard Tim Hardaway, Jr (5) during the 2014 NBA All Star Shooting Stars competition at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Hardaway Jr. is the key to New York Knicks success

Well who doesn’t like Vegas and the NBA’s summer league event?

Much took place in front of the camera as well as on and off the court.

The New York Knicks unfortunately saw their time in Las Vegas come to an end with an 82-79 loss at the hands of Knicks’ legend and now assistant coach Patrick Ewing of the Charlotte Hornets in the quarterfinals of the Las Vegas Summer League.

This was the first and only loss for new coach Derek Fisher who seemed to enjoy pacing the sidelines during games. This loss came after the Knicks had won their opening four games in summer league play.

Tim Hardaway, Jr. — who will be back in Las Vegas later this month to play with the U.S. Select Team — led the Knicks with 27 points. Shane Larkin added 16 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals while second round pick Cleanthony Early added 15 points and 10 rebounds.

First it was nice to see Fisher coaching, with new assistant coach Kurt Rambis at his side. They both were busy with the new NY Knicks, as they tried to implement the triangle offense.

Although they only lost one game in Vegas, it was a playoff game to the same Charlotte team they easily beat in the first meeting. In their loss, Fisher made some questionable substitutions and will need time to grow on the job.

Hardaway Jr, was the class of this team and was disrespected by being chosen for the second team. As the second leading scorer in Vegas for the entire league, he showed Phil Jackson and staff, he is ready to start this season.  Hardaway did more than score in Vegas.  He was clearly the leader on this team, on and off the court.  When I left Vegas last summer, I knew this young man was going to be good.  Now I believe he should start in the backcourt with Jose Calderon.

Hardaway is an offensive weapon, who can get his own shot at will. Yes he is vulnerable to the occasional bad shot, but what scorer isn’t.  His play made me believe he should start, with Iman Shumpert and Larkin coming off the bench. They could form a tenacious defensive front, as well as add energy to the second team.

Larkin, comes from great stock, his father Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, was there with his wife enjoying the play of his son.  For those of you who have forgotten, Larkin was chosen ahead of Hardaway in last year’s NBA draft and if available, the Knicks may have chosen him over Hardaway.  Suddenly the Knicks are younger, with Larkin, Hardaway, Shumpert, Aldrich and Early.

Hardaway is ready now, he looks stronger and more confident.  In five games played in Vegas, he averaged 22.8 points per game while shooting 43.8 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from behind the arc.

Larkin was a bundle of energy and I liked his overall game, however, still needs time. This will be a growing season for Larkin as he is tutored by Pablo Prigioni.  Both Larkin’s game and body need time to mature, he needs to improve both his outside shot and shot selection.  However when he is under control, he makes for a good leader on the court.  Remember, Larkin left Miami after his sophomore year, which would only make him a senior in college now, if he didn’t declare early.

He penetrates and moves the ball, plays great defense, passes well, his shooting was erratic and needs some experience and playing time before he is ready to lead this team.  In time, I see him as a younger, more electric, Prigioni, with Prigioni a better shooter currently.  He will be a good energizer off the bench, he led the Knicks’ team in steals and Walt Frazier said he has a knack for the ball.

Aldrich, is still my sleeper. In one game he scored nine points and had 15 rebounds. He looked great in the triangle and seemed to grasp its variances well.  He set great picks and looked ready to be a solid backup.  He can set picks, rebound the ball and block shots. He was quickly signed and shut down after the first game. I’m sure Jackson saw what I saw and didn’t want to tempt other teams as Aldrich was a free agent.

Early, looked more like a late first round pick than a second round pick.  He plays good defense, rebounds and attacks the basket.  He has a good jumper from 16-18 feet, but can improve his handle, while his shooting needs more range.  I don’t see him having the impact Hardaway had last year, but this young man has talent and will learn from Carmelo Anthony.

So barring any trades, I see Early, Hardaway and Larkin making the squad and with the exception of maybe Jeremy Tyler, that’s it.

Tyler was erratic on the offensive end and foul prone on the defensive end.  With the signing of Jason Smith, Tyler position to make this team is vulnerable.

Outside shooting was the Knicks weakness in Vegas, Hardaway was the only pure jump shooter on the squad.  Shannon Brown played with class and maturity, however it was his erratic outside shooting that ended up costing him a spot.

The Knicks still are a few pieces away.  I’d like to see them add a pure shooter to their frontcourt.  Early has talent but will not make the rookie impression Hardaway did.  If I walked away from anything in Vegas, it was the growth and maturity of Hardaway.

As Jackson still looks to make some moves, it was clear to me why Hardaway is untouchable.  With the addition of Smith, the health of Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire, the hopes for a matured and focused J.R. Smith, along with Carmelo, Calderon and Hardaway, there is no reason this Knick team doesn’t win the east.

Add another scorer, shooter and the sky is the limit for this team.

Dr. Eric Kaplan is a Bestselling author www.5minutemotivator.com
Follow him on Twitter @drekaplan

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