Diet Kawhi Leonard – The Tim Hardaway Jr. Question

TO: Matt Rosenfeld
FROM: Rory Masterson
SUBJECT: Tim Hardaway Jr.
Okay, so you watched more Michigan basketball than anyone else this season. Trey Burke was the crown jewel of that team, right? But the Knicks drafted Hardaway, so I can deal with that. How do you see him fitting in?

TO: Rory Masterson
FROM: Matt Rosenfeld
I’ll say this. It’s pretty unique to see the professional team you root for draft a college player you followed closely. Usually, I have to just rely on reporters’ opinions of these guys because I don’t watch that many of their games. But I watched A LOT of Michigan. And I’ll say this about Hardaway: he’s in a great athletic frame. He looks like he belongs in the NBA. He’s certainly not going to be overmatched athletically. And he can shoot. He hit something like five straight three-pointers at home against Ohio State this past year in a big game. It was the kind of performance that showed you what he was capable of.

All that being said, you have to remember this guy was at Michigan for three years, and before Trey Burke, Mitch McGary and Glen Robinson III got there, he wasn’t exactly leading teams that were very memorable. That’s why I think he’s going to be a solid rotational player. He can contribute to a good team off the bench, but I don’t exactly see him becoming a player to be reckoned with, unless he develops his game a good bit.
I’m naturally biased because I love Michigan, but how does a Knicks fan who’s not so familiar with Hardaway Jr. feel about this pick? Not many mid-20s picks really turn out to be that great….
TO: Matt Rosenfeld
FROM: Rory Masterson
Yeah, I’m sure that’s a pretty exciting feeling. Trey Burke was the best player in college basketball this past season; that goes without question, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to play with people of that pedigree. If we are to believe Michigan’s website and Wikipedia, Hardaway is 6’6″ and hovering right around 200 lbs. Kobe plays in about the same frame and has for a decade and a half. That’s not to compare their skill sets, of course, but the physicality could be there, especially once Hardaway adapts to the NBA game.

He’s already not afraid of attacking the rim, and he doesn’t mind stepping back and nailing a three. He can shoot off the dribble and, perhaps most importantly, he scores efficiently. That’s what we’re going to be talking about if and when the conversation arises over Hardaway and JR Smith. He works hard defensively too, though he can get beat off the dribble (can’t we all?). He doesn’t seem to mind big stages either, which will be huge when he’s playing in Madison Square Garden. His consistency is pretty nice too; he managed to average right around 14 points a game in each of his three seasons at Michigan.
I think we could’ve definitely done a lot worse than drafting Hardaway. I was honestly excited that we had a first-round draft pick at all, so to be able to get someone who we know (think?) can actually play is huge, given that we want to contend for a title next year. You’re right though; aside from anybody the Spurs pick and a few others, it’s tough to get a gem outside of the top 15 or 20. Maybe he’s the one for us.
TO: Rory Masterson
FROM: Matt Rosenfeld
I think you make a good point when you bring up JR Smith. Listen, I love JR. We all did. But sometimes he didn’t know when to know his role and shut his mouth (shut his shooting down for this conversation). Let’s be clear, Hardaway cannot replace Smith by himself. JR is a prolific scorer when he’s playing right. Hardaway can only hope to be able to score like that in the NBA. But what Hardaway lacks in scoring, he makes up for because he’ll work hard (not like JR), know his role on the team (JR seemed to forget at times), and will hopefully be able to rebound and move the ball around better than JR.

You know in the movie Moneyball, when Brad Pitt goes into the meeting with the scouts and he tells them they need to replace Giambi with three guys? That’s what I’d like to see the Knicks do, except with two guys replacing JR. Hardaway can be a part of that, and if he shows some moxy in his first season or two, it will make things a lot easier for the Knicks in navigating the extremely tough Eastern Conference.
The ceiling for Hardaway, in my opinion,  is being like a poor man’s Kawhi Leonard. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but if he went above and beyond, that’s what he’d be. Diet Kawhi Leonard. His floor is being cut and never really catching on a team, obviously. I don’t think this happens, he’s got the NBA bloodlines and seems to have the ability to play in the league. The realistic scenario, the one I could absolutely see Hardaway fulfilling, is that of a Danny Green/Gary Neal kind of role player. Somebody that can contribute big time, specifically in home games and in the right spots. That’s honestly what I could see him being in a few years, without being too optimistic or pessimistic.
TO: Matt Rosenfeld
FROM: Rory Masterson
That’s not a bad way to approach it. JR opted out of his contract and wants to test the market; I wish him the best of luck. He plays exciting, if not consistent, basketball. It’s just the kind of thing Rucker Park loves to see, and when it’s in the NBA, people go wild for it. That’s definitely an interesting proposition, to replace one player with two. In this case, we’re replacing our second-leading scorer, a dude who is incredibly explosive but also volatile, with Hardaway and someone who needs to step up in Smith’s place. I think Iman Shumpert is that guy. His defense has always been there, and it looked a lot to me like he took some time developing his offense when he was injured. The 3-pointers are certainly coming around, and that’s a huge part of the Knicks’ gameplan, or at least it was last season. So if the Knicks can split JR’s duties between Shump and Hardaway, we might end up being alright.

Isn’t it funny how the gold standard of role players ends up being everyone on the Spurs NOT named Duncan/Parker/Ginobili? I can definitely see Hardaway turning into Diet Kawhi Leonard, just given his reputed work ethic and the skills he already has. If he comes in and thinks team-first (Anthony-first), he could be a huge asset for us. He kind of has to be, in a way, simply because of our cap situation. I can see Hardaway coming out and putting up huge games, but more than likely he will (hopefully) find a nice area between 10 and 15 a night, at least for the first part of his career, and I would be more than happy with that. Diet Kawhi Leonard, who wouldn’t want a glass?
TO: Rory Masterson
FROM: Matt Rosenfeld
Anthony-first is exactly what he should (has to) be. We all know it’s Carmelo’s bus, and we are all just passengers. But those passengers need to be solid. I think that’s why the Knicks went with Hardaway with this pick. Being in the terrible cap situation they are in, along with being in a win-now mentality, they couldn’t afford to take a project. Hardaway may not have the highest ceiling, but I think he’s someone that will stick in the rotation. And that’s really all you can ask for at 24 in the draft.

The reality is, if the Knicks want to seriously compete, somebody that is currently on the roster needs to step up in a BIG way. If we were to put odds on that, Iman would be the favorite (at about 5:1 if I was bookmaker). I think Knicks fans will almost look at this Hardaway pick through the prism of how we do next season. If somebody like Iman or Amar’e (who am I kidding?) steps up and becomes a real number two guy, Hardaway can just play his minutes and grow on a solid team. If the Knicks offense besides Carmelo crashes and burns next year, well Hardaway could find people looking at him to do more than they should. It’s unfair, but I’m scared that’s what Knicks fans will do. I’m already nervous about what New York will do to my Wolverine. Thank God he’s got NBA bloodlines. Like you said, he’s been in the spotlight before. With that name on your back, you pretty much always are. I can’t wait to see him (and the Knicks) play. If you can’t tell, I miss the NBA already.

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