2017 NBA Free Agency

Tim Hardaway Jr. May Have Improved, But This Is No Uncomplicated Homecoming

How new weight on the returning Knick’s shoulders could spell backaches for New York

Photo: Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports

In one of Young Timmy’s better games I watched last season, he exploded for 23 points in the fourth quarter. Few players in the league can go on that type of streak. Not only was he pulling up from the arc like Knicks fans are used to seeing him do, but he was aggressive getting to the rim. He showed no fear going right at rising Rockets’ rim protector, Clint Capela. It was exciting to his smart shot selection, too.

Credit: YouTube

Then facing the formidable Wizards backcourt in the first round of the playoffs, it took awhile to find his shot. Defensively, the Hawks were out-matched by the sharp-shooting, fiercely athletic duo in John Wall and Bradley Beal. Tim Hardaway, Jr.’s, weaknesses resurfaced and hopefully they won’t become a nagging thorn in the Knicks’ side.

Hardaway, Jr., was drafted and then moved, given the rare opportunity to mature his game elsewhere. That’s an unusual benefit for both him and the Knicks. He gets a fresh clean slate here as a player who has improved enough offensively. He can put the ball on the floor as well as drive inside. He’s become quite the finisher at the rim. So why shouldn’t fans have an ounce of faith about his return?

The Price

I was a big proponent of Waiters Island. He was rumored to have been interested in playing in New York. Though he still hasn’t fixed his turnover problem, I liked the corner that Dion Waiters has turned defensively in the past two seasons. With the exception of the Hawks making the playoffs, THJ and Dion Waiters’ statistics for the season are nearly identical save for free throw shooting. Waiters’s deal is simpler and thus better-suited for a rebuild. With Timmy’s trade kicker, that makes him impossible to move should the Knicks fail to eclipse the 35–40 win mark in the next couple of years.

So essentially, the team is stuck with yet another contract albatross that was entirely avoidable had upper brass just been more aggressive in the first few hours of free agency. Or more patient, depending on how you view Waiters’s desire to remain in South Beach.

Credit: Spotrac

Where Is The Defense?

How long is the team going to let opposing point guards run amok? Aside from Courtney Lee and the occasional efforts from Ron Baker, the Knicks get beat up by virtually every guard in the league. Even with Frank Ntilikina’s length, we have no idea how he’ll fair against even the league’s back ups. Let’s assume that ‘Melo is gone by October. Coach Hornacek will play Lee as a 3 and start Frank right away to give him a taste of the NBA style–that means Timmy is starting at SG with an unproven rookie guard.

He doesn’t rebound. He’s not particularly long or crazy athletic. He doesn’t get in the passing lane like Lee. Sure, Timmy’s coming off a career year offensively and that’s to be praised (I guess). However, he hasn’t done anything impressive on the other end to justify $16.5 million in his first year.

Also worth nothing that even though Hornacek’s Suns played a faster pace, they also gave up a lot of points because of guard play. With Phil Jackson gone, he’ll look to institute this going forward. The Suns were 14–35 in 2015 before Hornacek was fired and 39–43 the previous season. In terms of defensive ratings, the Suns were ranked 25th and 17th in the league, respectively. With Hardaway Jr. and Frank, expect them to push the ball, leading to many transition buckets. But don’t be surprised when Hardaway Jr. continues to get cooked in isolation by the league’s elite.

Photo: Curtis Compton/AJC

Every Rebuild Needs A Good Mentor

Having gone away to boot camp in Atlanta, Timmy has some of the knowledge base to be able to teach a thing or two. Again, he’s only 25 though. Who wants that pressure when you’re still learning and tweaking your own skill set?

The Knicks drafted KP and Willy Hernangómez then signed Joakim Noah, hoping they’d get Defensive Player of the Year Noah. Instead, they got a corpse who is more of a nuisance than a teacher. We’re now trying to talk ourselves into Frank except he didn’t play in Orlando. All we have to really go on is footage from the increasingly popular sessions LifeTime at Sky.

Mentors are invaluable with a team saddled with youth at critical positions. Most teams that are undergoing rebuilds usually have one player who stands as out as the voice of the locker room. On the floor, he’s the second option to the team’s star. Off the floor, he’s the team’s buffer. It’s clear that KP is going to be the star. With ‘Melo busy browsing on Zillow, is Timmy capable of mentoring the team’s future point guard? Can a sinking ship be steered back on course by a novice captain? Me thinks not.

As a Knicks fan, you know never to be optimistic because Steve Mills, and by extension James Dolan, will always find a way to put ruin expectations. There are 71 million reasons why this homecoming is going to be awful. Its negative impact is only intensified when you realize that the Knicks could have signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or attempted a cheaper offer to Jonathon Simmons. The “what if” game is wasted energy though. The best we can hope for is that we get back a veteran and a high second round pick in the ‘Melo trade and Timmy watches some film on Courtney Lee’s defense.

James Woodruff, staff writer

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