On paper shooting guard appears to be the New York Knicks strongest position. Not only do they have the young and athletic Iman Shumpert, their best perimeter defender. They also have reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith. On top of that, they have sharp shooting rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. as well. Unfortunately, neither Shumpert or Smith have played up to their potential thus far this season. However, Hardaway Jr. is playing well. Not only should his spot in the rotation be solidified but Mike Woodson should seriously think about thrusting the youngster into the starting role.
No one should try to lessen the impact Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith have on the New York Knicks. They are both key guys. Shumpert is a youthful, athletic player who represents the Knicks best perimeter defender. The problem is, this year has been very poor for Shumpert. He's shot 35% from the field and 31% from behind the arc.
Smith is a veteran who has been the second option for the Knicks since signing with New York. However, a combination of not being healthy following an off-season knee surgery and being put into the starting lineup instead of his customary sixth man role has led to a poor performance this season from Smith as well. Smith is shooting 34% from both the field and from 3-point range.
There's an argument to be made that Smith should start but Shumpert needs to come off the bench. The numbers show that Smith’s percentages have been on the rise while Shumpert’s have been declining. What's interesting is that Smith has started only 6 games this season while Shumpert has started all 26 games thus far.
Now, does this mean Smith should be named the starting shooting guard for the Knicks? No, in fact he probably serves New York best coming off the bench. He can be deadly in his sixth man role and there's nothing stopping him from being on the floor at the end of the game when it really matters as compared to the beginning of the game when the score is zero-zero.
Smith should come off the bench. The thing is, he should be sitting next to Shumpert while waiting to come into the game. Whether its because Andrea Bargnani is around to take some of the touches away from others or it's the system or if it's that Shumpert isn't mentally strong enough to deal with New York and the trade rumors surrounding him, his performance dictates that it's time for a change.
Luckily for the Knicks, they have a third shooting guard who is actually playing well this season. Normally the idea of him playing a rookie heavy minutes would be easily dismissed but Mike Woodson is in no position to not play his best players because of their youth or lack of NBA experience.
The writing is on the wall, Tim Hardaway Jr. needs to be inserted into the starting lineup. Hardaway Jr. who is shooting 48% from the field and 42% from behind the arc. He's also shown improvement on the defensive side of the ball and brings an intensity to the floor the Knicks lack as a whole.
How do the three players compare production-wise? game. Shumpert's recorded 6.2 points in 27.9 minutes a night, while Smith's averaging 11.2 over 31.5 minutes. Hardaway Jr.’s averaging 8.4 points in only 17.9 minutes per game. The rookie can score and if he's outplaying his more experienced teammates, so be it.
Even his per-36 minutes statistics project that he'd outscore both Shumpert and Smith. The bottom line is, Hardaway Jr. has been more effective than both of New York's other shooting guard options.
Both Shumpert and Smith are veterans. It's not easy to take away their minutes and give them to a rookie. The thing is, Hardaway Jr. isn't being given anything. If anything, he's taken it. He's earned it by working his way into the rotation, playing well and performing at a higher level than New York's other shooting guard options.
In October, Al Iannazzone of Newsday reported Hardaway Jr. had earned a spot in the Knicks rotation.
"I think Tim has put himself in a nice position to play," Mike Woodson said Thursday at Ryerson University after the Knicks prepared for Friday night's preseason game against the Raptors. "There's no doubt about that. He's going to be in the rotation. He's going to play some."
In November, Fred Kerber of the New York Post reported players would have to earn their minutes at shooting guard.
“It is a logjam,” coach Mike Woodson said of the perimeter spot, which both Smith and Hardaway play, along with Iman Shumpert, and often Pablo Prigioni. “That’s a good problem to have. But somebody’s not going to be able to play a lot of minutes. So they’ve just got to understand that. When you get your opportunity, you’ve got to make the most of it to help us.”
“We're going to start Tim Hardaway. We'll have (Carmelo Anthony) back at the 4, and have Andrea (Bargnani) play the 5 with Tim and Iman (Shumpert) and Raymond (Felton)."
“He's been pretty solid based on the minutes that we're giving him from Day One, going back to Summer League,” Woodson said. “I trust how he plays on the basketball floor. That's why I’m starting him and I’m just trying to anchor our second group.”
For those who don't remember, that game was a disaster. The Knicks were destroyed by the Celtics 114-73. Really nobody in a Knicks uniform played well. However, in 24:39 Hardaway Jr. scored 8 points, recorded 3 steals, 1 assist and captured 2 rebounds. That's one of the better lines of the night.
The point is, Hardaway Jr. has taken the steps necessary to earn this opportunity. When he was drafted by the Knicks 24th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft he was given nothing but an opportunity. He showed since day one that he was a player that could make an impact at the NBA level.
He showed he could shoot three-pointers. That was enough to earn him some time off the bench. However, he had to show he could defend in the NBA. He showed he had enough in that area and has improved as the season has gone along.
He also proved to be a good teammate. Hardaway Jr. is one of the first players off the bench cheering and patting his teammates on the back. He's a fierce competitor who has a killer mentality.
Now it's time for Woodson to unleash Hardaway Jr. on the NBA as a full time starter. That would slot Smith in his customary sixth man role where he's most affective. It would also allow Woodson to use Shumpert in a defensive-stopper role off the bench.
This Knicks team is about looking towards the future. A future where Carmelo Anthony can opt-out of his contract. A future where additional scoring options are needed. A future where players need to be used in the best way for the team and not because of popularity, experience or because of their representation.
As long as the Knicks don't do something stupid and trade Hardaway Jr. he should be a huge part of the Knicks moving forward. Most viewed him as a possible replacement for Smith in the future. As a scoring threat off the bench who could be a powerful sixth man weapon. However, if he's going to be a part of that future the team should find out if they have a starter on their hands. The time to find out is now. It's time for Tim Hardaway Jr. to be named the starting shooting guard of the New York Knicks.
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