If all was going well with the New York Knicks, or at least marginally better, finding ways to keep rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. on the bench would be understandable. But the Knicks are 20-33 and have four starters struggling to score more than ten points per game.
After Carmelo Anthony, who is averaging 27.2 PPG, the Knicks’ second highest scoring starter is Raymond Felton with 10.3. Tyson Chandler is chipping in 8.6 PPG, Pablo Prigioni averages 3.7 PPG and Iman Shumpert gets 7.0 PPG. Of all combined lineups the Knicks have had this season, they are 24th in the NBA with 62.7 PPG from their starters. However, their bench is eighth in the league this season with 34.5 PPG. Hardaway Jr. is averaging 9.4 PPG in 21 minutes per game this season which translates to 16.2 points per 36 minutes.
With that said, there should be no concern about the Knicks being able to score in the second unit if Hardaway slid in to the starting lineup. J.R. Smith and Amar’e Stoudemire can provide more than enough bench scoring to keep the balance in order with Shumpert, Prigioni or Felton playing alongside the two lethal bench options. This could also inject a little life into one of the three struggling starting guards.
Prigioni is likely the man to be dropped as he is barely able to play starters’ minutes as is. That would allow Hardaway Jr. to slide in to his natural two spot with Felton at the point and Shumpert staying at small forward.
Ultimately what matters most is who is on the court down the stretch. And last night against the Memphis Grizzlies, Hardaway Jr. played the entire fourth quarter and almost led the Knicks to victory with 14 of his 23 coming in the final quarter.
Furthermore, playing the rookie alongside Anthony should open up a lot of looks for the sharpshooter. Hardaway Jr. has spent most of his time on the floor this season playing alongside Smith, which is not beneficial to his game, but he has still found a way to shine in his first year in the pros.
The All-Star break gave him some much-needed rest, and now he should be given a starting position. It might just be what leads the Knicks into the playoffs this year.