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.”

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.

Bulls Fred Hoiberg complains Isaiah Thomas gets away with palming. Thomas shrugs.

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The Boston Celtics have evened their series with Chicago Bulls, and more than that seem to have been able to take the Bulls best punch and now are responding.

At the heart of that is Boston All-Star Isaiah Thomas, who had 33 points on Sunday. He was attacking and getting into the heart of the Bulls defense all night, telling Michael Carter-Williams “you can’t guard me” so many times Thomas got a technical. Thing is, Thomas was right. No Bull has been able to guard Thomas the past two games.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said the reason for that is the officials let him get away with a palming the ball when dribbling. Via Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com (video above).

“Let me say this: Isaiah Thomas is a hell of a player, an unbelievable competitor, a warrior, everything he’s going through right now. He had a hell of a game tonight,” Hoiberg said. “When you’re allowed to discontinue your dribble on every possession, he’s impossible to guard. Impossible to guard. When you’re able to put your hand underneath the ball, take two or three steps and put it back down. It’s impossible to guard him in those situations.”

I liked the follow-up comment from the reporter (not on the video), which was essentially “the league doesn’t call that on anyone, so that’s your complaint?” Thomas doesn’t get away with palming any more than any other ball handler in the league. If you want to define the rule by a 1950s standard then yes, he does carry, but so does pretty much every Bulls’ ball handler. So does 3/4 of the league by that measure.

Fortunately, Hoiberg never had to coach against Allen Iverson or he might have completely lost it watching him dribble.

This came off as a desperation ploy by Hoiberg. Or it was the worst attempt ever at a “take that for data” rant ever.

Thomas, for his part, basically shrugged when told about it.

When told about Hoiberg’s comments, Thomas said, “That’s not the reason. It is what it is. I guess (Hoiberg) is just going to continue to say it. I’ve been dribbling that way my whole life, I don’t know what to say to that.”

Joe Johnson dominates late, Jazz beat Clippers 105-98 to even series 2-2

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Rudy Gobert was back at center, giving the Jazz an emotional boost and someone who can match up with DeAndre Jordan (although Gobert wasn’t moving like his normal self).

Gordon Hayward had to leave the game with food poisoning.

It didn’t matter, the Jazz had Joe Johnson. The veteran forward who knows how to get buckets scored or assisted on 20 straight points for Utah in the fourth, sparking a run that got the Jazz a 105-98 come-from-behind win.

The series is now tied 2-2, heading back to Los Angeles for Game 5 Tuesday.

When people talk about Johnson, the first thing that seems to come up is the oversized contract Atlanta gave him, but they forget this is a seven-time All-Star. He was nicknamed “iso-joe” because of how Mike Woodson’s offense used him heavily in isolation for the Hawks, but that was playing to the strength of his skill set. He can get buckets. Just ask the Clippers, as Johnson finished with 28.

The return of Gobert, a quietly strong game from Derrick Favors, plus maybe something else (like the heavy load last game) seemed to wear on DeAndre Jordan, who was not as sharp as normal in this one. The Clippers again leaned on Chris Paul — 27 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds — and Jamal Crawford who had 25 points off the bench. However, take those two out of the equation and the rest of the Clippers shot just 34.2 percent against that elite Jazz defense. In the fourth quarter, the entire Clippers’ team shot 31.4 percent total.

Utah got good performances from their role players, who stepped up with Hayward out. Rodney Hood had 18 points and some key buckets in the fourth. Then there was Joe Ingles, who defended CP3 for stretches, was a force getting where he wanted on the pick-and-roll leading to 11 assists, plus he had two key threes down the stretch.

The Clippers clearly missed Blake Griffin in some of these matchups, but Los Angeles is going to have to adjust to that in this series because he’s not returning.

This series is even and feels like it may well go seven. The Clippers have two out of the remaining three at home, and they have the best player in the series in Chris Paul. All that may not be enough if the Jazz role players keep stepping up.