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New York Knicks Rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. Has Expanding Role Heading into Season

The No. 24 Overall Pick in the 2013 Draft Will Get Minutes for New York Right Away

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COMMENTARY | If the New York Knicks and their fans are curious to see what they have in Tim Hardaway Jr., they are about to find out. The No. 24 overall pick will be playing meaningful minutes from the get-go for Mike Woodson's club.

This is due in large part to the time reigning NBA Sixth Man J.R. Smith will miss. Smith has been suspended five games for a positive test that violated the NBA/NBPA Anti-Drug Program.

Originally, the Knicks said Smith could miss anywhere between two and six weeks after having patella tendon surgery and an arthroscopy for a lateral meniscus tear in his left knee. The unfortunate thing for Smith and the Knicks is that the suspension starts, according to the fine print, "the first game of the season for which he is eligible and physically able to play."

More recently, reports indicate there is no timetable for Smith's return. We aren't exactly sure when to expect Smith back with the variety of things we are hearing.

Anyway, this becomes about the former Wolverine who is following his father's footsteps into the NBA while looking to make his own name. We knew the guy would see time on the floor, but before he logs a single minute in an NBA game, his role is already increasing.

There are plenty of things the Knicks love about Hardaway Jr., starting with his ability to play small with a naturally large shooting guard frame. At 6 feet 6 inches and 200 pounds, he is a fluid athlete with great length that excels in the mid-range game. He has the ability to play inside or out, from his skills getting to the rim to stretching his game out to the 3-point line and making some deep ones on the catch-and-shoot. Offensively, although unrefined, he poses a threat to defenses with both size and skill.

At the same time, the rookie needs improvement in a variety of areas. He is not great at creating his own shot and needs work in the ball-handling department. He has excelled on defense in the 1-3-1 zone at Michigan but is sometimes overaggressive. Defending at the NBA level just comes with the minutes. It will be tough for Knicks fans to see a shooter without much ability to create his own shot (like J.R. Smith), but Hardaway will just contribute in the ways that made him their first-round pick. Fans have to live with the learning curve and remember he isn't J.R., so we can't treat him like he is.

Obviously, there is no legitimate gauge for Hardaway's strength and weaknesses at the NBA level until he actually logs some minutes. Luckily, for Knicks fans, we will find out within the first couple weeks of regular-season play just how much he can contribute off the bat. His role is not defined quite yet, but we know what we imagine it will be.

Make no mistake here -- Iman Shumpert is the primary shooting guard for the Knicks. The division of minutes when Smith returns will be an issue to handle when it comes. For now, the spot belongs to Shump and it will be up to Hardaway to provide important bench minutes behind him along with new addition Beno Udrih.

There will be much learning on the fly for Hardaway, who will be expected to contribute as a two-guard and possibly swingman behind Shumpert and Metta World Peace, respectively.

While he will be getting J.R. Smith-like minutes early, we can't expect the rookie to put up Smith's numbers from last season. His 18.1 points per game is something the Knicks will need to make up by committee, rather than with one guy. We wouldn't even want him to try -- it's a recipe for disaster.

The most important thing is learning from the veterans and playing a role. Hardaway can let Shumpert, Raymond Felton, Carmelo Anthony do the creating and play off them rather than taking it into his own hands. A huge benefit will be coming to a team that is deeper than many of the ones it plays, especially the ones at the bottom of the conference.

The role for Hardaway is one that Knicks fans are waiting to see. You never really know what to make of late first-round picks, and the natural transition period to the pros will surely have fans uneasy if the team is missing some offensive spark early.

Overall, Knicks fans should be excited about their new guard and what he could bring to the table. Confidence needs to be placed in Mike Woodson, the coaching staff and the rest of the roster to help acclimate all of the new bodies, especially the young ones.

Whatever part Hardaway plays, it is ever expanding. New York really does need him to produce in some way while Smith is out and the jury is still out on the Knickerbockers as a whole. He will step in with significant minutes to try and help New York keep its spot near the top of the East.

Brian Sausa is a Queens native who has covered various New York area teams for New York Sports World. Also a member of UAlbany Sports Information Department. Find on Twitter @BrianSausa.

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