Extra Pass: Beyond Phil Jackson, Knicks should see Tim Hardaway as instrumental to their future

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BOSTON – When he was about 8 years old and accompanying his dad to his NBA games, Tim Hardaway Jr. used to grab a basketball and wander onto the court beyond the 3-point arc. There, he’d attempt NBA 3 after NBA 3.

It’d be years until he’d make them regularly and even longer until he could use his standard stroke rather than pushing the ball. But he kept at it.

“I’d just be hoisting those,” Hardaway said. “I wouldn’t shoot mid-range a lot, just shoot 3s, just to challenge myself.”

No wonder Hardaway is having such an easy time transitioning from the college to NBA arc, converting 37.7 of his 3-pointers.

He’s the only rookie to shoot better from beyond the arc in the NBA than he did in each of his college seasons (minimum: 30 attempts). In fact, no rookie coming straight from college has shot so well on 3-pointers on so many attempts since Stephen Curry four seasons ago.

Before Phil Jackson became James Dolan’s false idol, Hardaway was the great hope of New York fans, and it’s easy to see why they’ve swooned.

The Knicks didn’t have a first-round pick the year before selecting Hardaway No. 24 last June, and barring an unexpected trade, they won’t have one this June, either. Hardaway is the youngest player on the Knicks, the only team among the NBA’s 10 oldest (weighted by playing time) not in playoff position.

Simply, he’s the brightest hope in one of the NBA’s darkest situations.

The 21-year-old Hardaway has posted 2.2 win shares this season, a strong mark for his age but hardly elite overall. But let’s expand the parameters further – players under 28 with at least 1.5 win shares this season. Hardaway is the only qualifying Knick. Every other team besides the back-to-back defending champion Miami Heat have multiple such players.

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You can certainly forgive the Heat for lacking productive young players, Mario Chalmers excepted. They’re obviously doing quite alright.

The Knicks? Not so much.

That’s why New York fans latch onto players like Hardaway, and before him, Iman Shumpert.

Like Hardaway, Shumpert was a first-round pick bookended by two years of the Knicks lacking first-round picks. Shumpert had a promising rookie year and a strong second season, but in his third year, he’s regressed as lofty expectations rose too high.

Can Hardaway better navigate the Knicks quagmire? Maybe.

It starts with his advanced 3-point shooting.

Hardaway clearly arrived at the University of Michigan with shooting skills. He says he aced Michigan coach John Beilein’s famed challenge, making 50 3-pointers in five minutes with a single ball and rebounder, on his first try.

Last season, with future first-rounder Nik Stauskas on campus, Beilein’s drill went from 50 in five to 60 in five. Again, Hardaway cruised, peaking at 68 or 69, as he left Ann Arbor after his junior year.

“I mean, I’m a shooter,” Hardaway said. “So, that’s what I do. I shoot the ball.”

And for right now, that’s about it.

Hardaway, averaging 10.0 points per game, has been extremely one-dimensional in New York.

Of the 46 shooting guards who’ve played at least 1,000 minutes this season, Hardaway has the lowest offensive-rebounding percentage, second-lowest defensive-rebounding percentage, lowest total rebounding percentage, third-lowest assist percentage, eighth-lowest steal percentage and eighth-lowest block percentage.

He’s finished just 43 pick-and-rolls as the ball-handler with a shot, turnover or trip to the free-throw line all season, according to MySynergySports.

Defensively, he stays on the balls of his feet well, but he’s not always moving somewhere helpful. The Knicks allow 110.3 points per 100 possessions with Hardaway on the court, up from 103.4 when he sits.

Hardaway’s value lies almost completely as a spot-up shooter.

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But Hardaway isn’t necessarily destined to fill only such a limited role.

He’s 6-foot-6 and athletic, a combination that considerably boosts his upside.

“I want him to be a complete player,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. “So, I want him to get better defensively, and I think he will as the years come and go. He’s just got to pick up a little of weight, get a little bit stronger. But I like everything about Tim.”

If you look closely, signs are already emerging he’ll realize his greater potential.

Hardaway finishes well at the rim when he gets there. Though he ranks just 59th league-wide in fastbreak points per game, he leads the slow-paced Knicks. In his last two games, he’s scored 22 points on 11 shots and 28 points on 13 shots.

As long as everyone keeps reasonable expectations for him, Hardaway should play prominently in the Knicks’ future.

The bulk of Hardaway’s value stems from how firmly he’s entrenched himself as a solid role player who could develop into a great role player. Whether or not they re-sign Carmelo Anthony this summer, the Knicks aren’t going to stop chasing stars, and stars can always use shooters like Hardaway to pace the floor. Hardaway’s defense still prevents him from being a true 3-and-D player, but that’s hardly uncommon for a rookie. Hardaway can, and likely, will get there.

But the chance he reaches a much higher ceiling, even if it’s a longshot, increases his value. Not all role players possess this type of upside.

After years of devoting extreme attention to what his become his signature skill, 3-point shooting, Hardaway has begun to develop his all-around repertoire.

“You’ve got to,” Hardaway said. “You’ve got to expand your game each and every day, and it doesn’t stop.”

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.

Phoenix Suns with quality solar eclipse joke on Twitter

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With the cooler-than-I-expected solar eclipse on Monday came a lot of bad solar eclipse jokes on Twitter. Because that’s what Twitter does. Especially the NBA Twitterverse. We knew a lot of “where on the flat earth will Kyrie Irving watch the eclipse?” jokes were coming.

There were a couple of good ones, however.

Appropriately, the Phoenix Suns won the day.

One personal favorite here, an old meme that never goes out of style.

Report: Other small-market teams championing Pacers’ tampering allegation against Lakers

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The NBA, at the Pacers’ request, is investigating whether the Lakers tampered by making impressible contact with Paul George.

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In fact, there’s word that other small- and mid-market team officials have reached out to the Pacers and told them, “Good for you. Fight the good fight.”

Small-market teams whine too much about the disadvantages they face, but tampering isn’t really a market-size issue. Remember, under Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers were known as the only team that didn’t tamper.

The Lakers have advantages because George is from the area, and Los Angeles offers immense marketability. That’d be true whether or not they contacted George or his agent before he officially became a free agent.

I understand the desire to take down the big, bad Lakers – especially now that they appear poised to become truly big and bad again. But it’s hard to find a team that can cast a stone at them from anywhere other than a glass house.