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Making Sense Of The Knicks’ Tim Hardaway Jr. Deal

Jesse D. Garrabrant, Getty Images

While the Knicks have been widely mocked by everyone for their monstrous Tim Hardaway Jr. signing, could he actually be what New York needs?

Following the firing of controversial President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, the Knicks are heading into the 2017 offseason without much direction. GM Steve Mills has seized control, and has said all the right things since taking over. That is, until he made one of the most widely panned signings of the offseason, inking former Knicks’ draft pick Tim Hardaway Jr. to a shocking four-year, $71 million contract.

On its face, the contract was one of the most flooring acquisitions of the offseason, and it seemed to contradict much of Mills’ posturing about rebuilding the organization and promoting front office accountability. Shortly after, GM candidate David Griffin withdrew himself from consideration to avoid being mired in the Knicks’ toxic front office. Mills’ tenure now seems to be off to a familiar start. But, to drop the drama and investigate the signing rationally, was the Hardaway signing as bad as people want to make it?  

If you take away the contract numbers, Tim Hardaway Jr. is exactly the type of player the Knicks should target in free agency. He’s only 25 years old, athletic, can play both shooting guard and small forward positions, and he has a legitimate chance to be a reliable second scoring option to pair with New York’s cornerstone Kristaps Porzingis. If all goes to Mills’ mad plan, they could form one of the best young backcourt-frontcourt duos in the NBA.

  

Perhaps Hardaway’s most marketable skill is his potent offensive punch, which was hidden on the bench for the first half of Atlanta’s season. He asserted himself strongly in the second half of the season, when he was elevated to the starting SG position after the departure of Kyle Korver. In his final 45 starts in Atlanta, Tim posted 16.8 PPG with a starting-caliber slash line of .461/.368/.819.   

For the year, Hardaway would have averaged the second most points on the Hawks last season per 36 minutes, trailing Dennis Schroder and tied with Paul Millsap. If Carmelo Anthony is on the move before the upcoming season, Hardaway’s scoring will be invaluable for New York, as he takes his place among the Knicks’ young core of Porzingis and Phil’s other Euro picks: Willy Hernangomez (2017 All-Rookie First Team) and this year’s lottery selection Frank Ntilikina.

Knicks fans who are slamming the deal may be expecting the same player traded away two years ago, but Hardaway has developed nicely under Mike Budenholzer and the Hawks’ coaching staff. As evidenced by the lucrative contract, Hardaway compiled a career year, with highs in points per game (14.5), rebounds (2.8), assists (2.3), field goal percentage (45.5) and effective field goal percentage (53.7).

  

Beyond his personal statistics, Hardaway was valuable as a team contributor for fifth-seeded Atlanta last season. The Hawks’ effective field goal percentage was better (52.1% to 48.3%), and their offensive rating was substantially better (109.0 to 100.5) with Hardaway on the court. He was not a liability defensively either; opponents’ offensive rating dipped from 106.5 to 106.2 when he was on.  

Comparing sophomore Tim Hardaway Jr. and 2016-17 Hardaway reveals stark differences that should give fans a glimmer of optimism. His PER jumped from 12.1 to 15.2, and his VORP improved from -0.9 to 0.9. He may not be a superstar today, but his numbers at least show that he has an upward-trending trajectory of development, which should blossom further as a starter in New York.  

To the delight of reticent Knicks fans, Hardaway has also improved greatly on the defensive end of the court. He posted a career high in defensive win shares (2.1), following 0.0 DWS in his 2014-15 Knicks season. Hardaway held opponents to 40.7% shooting on 8.8 attempts per game against him. By comparison, Pistons’ guard Avery Bradley, widely revered as one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA today, allowed opponents to shoot 46.5% on 10.0 attempts. While no one is predicting Tim t make the All-Defensive team, he is not the defensive liability critics would make him out to be.

When it comes down to it, the $71 million is the only reason not to appreciate the Knicks’ acquisition of Hardaway; a player of Tim’s age and talent is just what New York should be targeting in free agency. If the money is the sticking point for most pundits, consider this: Tim outperformed Atlanta’s Kent Bazemore last season, who was on an almost identical four-year, $70 million deal. Even beyond the similar finances of the deals, Hardaway is three years younger than Bazemore.

Furthermore, overpaying RFAs is simply the nature of the free agency beast, although it’s debatable that the Knicks had to overpay by more than $20 million. Even if you hate the contract, the Knicks are moving away from their practice of overpaying washed up, big name stars, and have graduated to overpaying up-and-coming future stars (though outbidding no one for the services of Ron Baker is a bit of a head scratcher). That’s a measure of progress, regardless of how incensed some are about the signing.         

Edited by Joe Sparacio, Emily Greitzer, Amelia Shein.

SQuiz
How many points did Tim Hardaway Jr. score in the 2014 Rising Stars Challenge?
Created 7/11/17
  1. 30
  2. 32
  3. 34
  4. 36

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