The New York Knicks offered Tim Hardaway Jr. a $71 million offer sheet, and they’d be overpaying him just a little bit.
The door swings open. In the Knicks’ war room, we see Steve Mills sitting with his basketball personnel while James Dolan is noticeably absent. He’s probably playing another gig with his band. But that’s nothing new considering how he hired Phil Jackson to handle all of the basketball decisions. Now that Jackson’s gone, Dolan’s philosophy hasn’t changed.
The team gathered around a table with growing distress. Free agency has been going on for a few days, but the Knicks have been reluctant to make any moves and address any of their problems. They need a point guard. George Hill is out in Sacramento; Jeff Teague is up in Minnesota; Justin Holiday is in Chicago. Because of what’s transpired over the last couple of years, free agents don’t see New York as a destination, but it doesn’t hurt to throw an offer at them and see what happens.
“Jumpin’ Jehosafats, Batman!” exclaimed Mills as he noticed the shrinking player pool. “We haven’t done anything in free agency yet. It’s now or never — we need to make a move before it’s too late. But make sure it’s not irrational. The last thing we need to overpay someone.”
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“I GOT IT,” replied a voice. No one could make out who said it, but it must’ve come from heaven above. Or inside Steve Mills. “Let’s overpay someone — Tim Hardaway Jr. four years, $71 million.”
I’m not sure if this exchange happened when Knicks’ brass made the decision, but it’s still peak Knicks. Tim Hardaway Jr. is a good young player, but not worth the $71 million that he’s going to make. Annually, he’ll earn $17.75 million on average. The fourth year is a player option with $18.9 million, and the deal also includes a 15 percent trade kicker.
Hardaway Jr. is entering his second stint with the Knicks. Yes, you read that right. New York drafted him 24th overall in 2014, traded him to the Hawks and now completed the circle by presenting him more money than they should have. I’m not mad at Hardaway for this offer. He had an outstanding season. I’m confused why the Knicks, whose front office works with basketball players on a daily basis, thought this was a decent deal for their team. Maybe their minds got a little foggy since they had gone almost a week without any noise. Maybe that’s a terrible excuse.
In 79 games with Atlanta, Hardaway averaged a career-high 14.5 points on 45.5 percent shooting. The efficiency issues that plagued him with the Knicks aren’t there, but he’s still a mediocre three-point shooter at 35.7 percent. He had 23 games with more than 20 points, and the career-high 36 he had against the Cleveland Cavaliers back in March is the highlight.
Hardaway Jr. has no problems scoring. He also doesn’t have issues with getting the looks he wants. Over the years, his evolution as a three-level bucket-getter has been eye-opening, and it’s odd to see a player in today’s NBA where their mid-range shot is more accurate than their three. The shot selection indicates a better decision-making process, and I don’t think it’s coincidental Hardaway posted his best true shooting percentage (56.8) in the same year he had his lowest three-point attempt rate (45.7).
Since the 6-6 guard mostly plays the two, it’s not an indictment that he’s being selfish. Atlanta had Dennis Schroder to facilitate their offense and Hardaway didn’t need to worry about that. We don’t know if New York is going to have that kind of player come next season. That’d result in Hardaway having to pick up more floor general duties, and I don’t know what the results would be like.
He averaged a career-high 2.3 assists, but I wouldn’t call him a playmaker. Moreover, the assist-to-turnover ratio was 1.76. Not ideal. Contrarily, Hardaway did an admirable job not giving the ball away despite being a relatively high usage player. He finished last season with a usage rate of 22.5 percent, trailing only Paul Millsap and Schroder. A handful of players boasted a usage rate that fell between 20 and 23 percent last year, and Hardaway managed to be in the bottom 10 by committing a turnover just 9.5 percent of his possessions. Maybe this would inflate if the Knicks forced him to play the point, but it’s a solid base that doesn’t need tampering.
Atlanta struggled to manufacture points all season long. With Hardaway, it became easier. The difference from when he was on and off was plus-8.5 points per 100 possessions, and their effective field goal percentage jumped from 48.3 to 52.1. That’s tremendous.
Unfortunately, Hardway’s glaring deficiency is his defense. He’s below-average. You can chalk it up to him being young. He’s only 25. Going from the Knicks to the Hawks was certainly better for Hardaway learning the ins-and-outs, and, going by some advanced metrics, he improved significantly. Atlanta’s been an elite defensive team for the last three seasons and has never fallen out of the top-six in defensive rating. Hardaway’s been present for two of those campaigns.
In them, his defensive box plus/minus is minus-1.5 combined, but that’s infinitely less nauseating when placed next to the minus-3.8 he recorded with the Knicks.
Numbers like BPM and DBPM can be tricky. According to them, Hardaway struggles on that end. NBA.com says differently. On their defense dashboard, it says that Hardaway’s defended field goal percentage is 40.7, putting him 3.5 percentage points below the league average. If you were to go by that exclusively, it would mean that he’s better than Kawhi Leonard and Andre Roberson. I assure you that’s not true. What that tells me is that Hardaway can defend, but he’s not lockdown, and the Knicks aren’t going to make him look any better than he is. In fact, he may look worse. I don’t see that going over well with the fans.
The decision to offer Hardaway $71 million looks bad now. Congrats to him for getting an offer that big, but shame on the New York Knicks for thinking that’s a reasonable deal. If he were a more versatile player, it’s a different conversation. However, the 2017-18 season is going to make some of us look silly or possibly make some of us look like geniuses. Hardaway’s still young and has developed nicely over the last couple of years, and if he breaks out, all of a sudden this deal doesn’t look that bad.
There’s also the chance he stays in Atlanta. But they’d be crazy to match even though Hardaway put together a superb season. If they decide to retain the 25-year-old, New York would need to push harder to sign players, but also realize that they’re not in the position to overpay anybody.
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