J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert each have started one of the Knicks' first two games at shooting guard, but Tim Hardaway Jr. continues to emerge as a scoring option off the bench for first-year coach Derek Fisher. Hardaway, who made the NBA's All-Rookie team last season, leads the Knicks in scoring at 14.5 points per game entering Monday's contest against Toronto at the Garden.
“Just observing him from a stance as an opponent last year and now having worked with him since June, he's just an impressive young man, solid person, solid character. And I think that's the reason why he's so diligent and so professional in his approach,” Fisher said after Saturday's win over Boston at Mohegan Sun. “He's going to be important for us this season.”
Hardaway, the team's first-round pick (24th overall) in 2013 out of Michigan, appeared in all but one of the Knicks' 82 games last season, averaging 10.2 points over 23.1 minutes per appearance.
The second-year swingman has said he has been concentrating more on improving his defense, but Hardaway also believes that his game is “a good fit” for the newly installed triangle offense, which he described as “kind of similar” to the two-guard sets he played in at Michigan.
“This year I feel different, a little stronger, more confident out there on the court, more vocal. It's great to have veterans around me to encourage me to keep doing what I'm doing,” Hardaway, 22, said after scoring 11 points on 5-for-9 shooting Saturday night. “This year I just want to focus on giving energy on both ends of the floor. Just really, really trying to concentrate on the defensive end, whatever it takes to get better. I know we have a great coaching staff here. I'm going to do whatever I can to get better on that end.”
Hardaway, who described Fisher as “a great defensive player” during an 18-year playing career, received a head start with his new coach and system by playing with the Knicks' summer-league entry in July.
“It helped out big time ... I think I had more opportunities to get the feel for the coaching staff and really get the feel for the guys that are on the team right now that they invited,” Hardaway said. “We've got that chemistry and we're definitely in practice helping out the veterans to make sure they're running the plays the right way.”
Carmelo Anthony also has noticed “a more confident” approach from Hardaway in his second camp compared to last year.
“I see a lot of confidence in Tim, knowing how good a player he could be,” Anthony said. “I think he believes that now, he believes in himself a lot more now and it's only going to grow. I need Tim's confidence to be sky high.”
Anthony netted a team-high 16 points Saturday night, as he and the Knicks appeared incrementally comfortable at both ends following a sloppy preseason opening loss three days earlier — also against the Celtics — in Hartford.
“We haven't even broke the tip of the iceberg yet in terms of this offense,” Anthony said. “So for me, I'm still trying to find my way and trying to see the spots on the court
and trying to get the timing down on this offense.”
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