Madison Square Garden â€“ the Mecca of basketball â€“ is one of the biggest stages in the NBA. The bright lights and emotional crowd bring out the best in any NBA player. For first-year players, there’s nowhere better to provide a launchpad for their career. Since the start of the year, despite being one of the league’s biggest disappointments, the New York Knicks have had a rookie who looks ready to take flight in the big city.
Through the turbulence the Knicks have experienced so far this year, rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. has shed some hope on the season and the organization. In his first year in the NBA, Hardaway Jr. says he is still learning the professional game.
“I feel like I still have a lot to do,” Hardaway Jr. said earlier this week. “I’m still learning the pro game. I’m just learning from my teammates and the veteran guys around me.”
So far this season, Hardaway is averaging 8.4 points in about 18 minutes per game off the bench. Maybe it’s the oranges he likes to eat at halftime to give him extra energy. Maybe it’s his professional attitude, something crafted during his time at Michigan. Maybe it’s the genes. Whatever it is, he is making a positive impact almost every night, regardless of whether he plays nine minutes or 30.
Since the departure of shooters like Steve Novak last season, many analysts predicted the Knicks would be in a pickle without a consistent threat from downtown to properly space the floor. Hardaway Jr. has answered that bell, shooting at a 42 percent clip from downtown this season, which is high enough that defenders have to honor his shot from the outside. Also, not like many other rookies, Hardaway came in immediately with his shot in his back pocket. Other rookies have struggled to find their shot early on this season — among rooks who have played at least 25 games, he’s first in overall shooting and his long-ball sniping is dwarfing that of rookies like Trey Burke (35.9 percent), Ben McLemore (35.6 percent) and Michael Carter-Williams (31.5 percent). Hardaway Jr. also believes hitting his shots at an efficient rate is helping to win over coach Mike Woodson, who doesn’t often give rookies consistent minutes.
“As the games go on,” he said. “I feel like I’m earning [Woodson’s] trust by going out and having energy on the defensive end and hitting shots.”
As for Mike Woodson, he believes his rookie is making an impact, especially on the offensive end.
“Timmy is an offensive guy that can put the ball in the hole,” Woodson said about Hardaway Jr. before tipoff against Washington last Monday.
He was right about that. Hardaway had 11 points and two three-pointers in that game and was a big spark off the bench. Then on Saturday night, despite losing to Memphis, the 6-6 two-guard logged 30 minutes and scored 16 points. With injuries piling on in the backcourt, and because of his shooting range, Woodson said Hardaway Jr.’s playing time will be increasing. With Iman Shumpert struggling to find an offensive rhythm amid swirling trade rumors, Hardaway Jr. could soon be replacing those minutes. Although he is a rookie, we have seen flashes of a capable two-way NBA player, the same way Shumpert is viewed.
It’s still early, but the Knicks may have found a gem with their last first-round draft pick. If he continues to play the way he has early on, there could be some recognition at the end of the season for the first-year player out of Michigan.
What do you expect out of THJ the rest of the season?
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