Reigning Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith’s return date from offseason knee surgery is still unknown, and he’s added a five-game suspension on top of that. With last season’s second-leading scorer inactive at the start of the season for an indeterminate amount of time, first-round draft pick Tim Hardaway Jr. will likely be called up on to contribute on offense early in the season.
Smith and Hardaway Jr. are remarkably similar players in a lot of ways. Both have a knack for knocking down difficult shots, and they can both have the athleticism to finish above the rim. They also share the same wild shot selection and neither is a particularly adept ball handler. Their similarities should make it relatively easy to slide HardawayJr. into Smith’s old role on a temporary basis.
Because of his inexperience, Mike Woodson, who has a known preference for veterans, won’t be giving Hardaway Jr. as long a leash as Smith, who has carte blanche to shoot almost whenever he pleases. Woodson will likely ask Hardaway Jr. to contribute more as a spot-up shooter than as a shot creator in isolation, which could help him ease his way into the offense. As he showed in the Vegas Summer League, where he shot under 40 percent from the field, he still has a ways to go in terms of shot selection.
He definitely has the tools to be an effective outside shooter at the NBA level. He has good form on his shot and has made 37.4 percent of his attempts from deep last year as a member of the Michigan Wolverines on a high volume of attempts, and that was while carrying a much larger offensive burden than he’ll have to on the New York Knicks.
If Hardaway Jr. can earn Woodson’s trust by hitting open shots, playing within the team’s offense, and consistently giving a high level of effort on defense, he should be able to help make up for Smith’s absence until he returns.