The Knicks’ starting shooting guard position is vacant. And Tim Hardaway Jr is already tired of hearing about it.
“I don’t know why people keep asking that question,” Hardaway Jr told SLAM just before Knicks media day. “Obviously, who doesn’t want to be a starting shooting guard in the NBA?”
It’s a tantalizing question because it’s easy to imagine Hardaway Jr as the Knicks’ 2-guard. During his rookie campaign, he established himself as a knock-down shooter and a player who can run in transition. He dropped seven treys and 36 points in the Rising Stars Challenge back in February and earned a spot on the 2013-14 All-Rookie First-Team.
He struggled at times on the defensive end, but to put that criticism into perspective, very few rookies come into the League as good defenders.
Hardaway’s offseason was highlighted by a dominant showing in Vegas Summer League, where he embraced a leadership role, and an invite to the USA Basketball Select Team. When he wasn’t in Vegas, Hardaway Jr was training at home in Miami or at the Knicks practice facility in Tarrytown, NY.
In his down time, the 22-year-old stays connected with teammates on the console. Naturally, Hardaway is hyped for the new Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare game, which releases November 4. We got down to chat with Hardaway Jr on a Thursday afternoon to talk about the new CoD, running the Triangle Offense, and—we had to ask about that starting 2-guard spot.
SLAM: Have you had a chance to work out with Carmelo’s longtime trainer, Idan Ravin?
Tim Hardaway Jr: Yeah, I worked out with Idan last year during the season when he was with the (Knicks’) staff. He’s great. He’s what everybody says he is. He’s definitely great at his craft and making people push their limits.
SLAM: During this past offseason, who did you train with?
THJ: Nobody, really. I’ve been by myself back at home. Training by myself, getting better each and every day. When I’m at the (Knicks’) facility, everybody will pop up every once in a while.
SLAM: You played your high school ball in Florida, but you played AAU with the Mac Irvin Fire. How did that relationship come about?
THJ: My parents are based out of Chicago and my family is based out of Chicago. Every summer when I was out of school, before I started playing AAU, we lived in Chicago when my dad was working out with Tim Grover. So I really grew close to the Irving family, and they really are family to the Hardaway family as well.
SLAM: Jabari Parker, also part of the Irving family, is heading into his rookie season. Have you spoken to him recently?
THJ: I haven’t talked to him at all this offseason. I’m just focused on Knick basketball. From what I’ve seen from him, he’s a great player in a great situation right now. He’s close to home. I really haven’t had an opportunity to talk to him.
SLAM: What was it like playing with guys like Cleanthony Early and Shane Larkin in Vegas?
THJ: Definitely energy guys. Shane uses his speed to the best of his abilities because he’s sometimes the smallest guy out there on the court. He’s out there getting a lot of defections and loose balls on the floor and pushing the pace—a great passer. Cleanthony does a great job of running the floor just like myself. He has that tenacity of wanting to get better, and he really loves to ask questions, which is great coming from a young guy.
SLAM: Did Phil Jackson speak to the team in Vegas?
THJ: Yeah, he talked to us a little bit. Not really about our roles, but trying to get us ready for the season and telling us what we have to work on as a team. He’s doing a great job of making sure Coach Fisher is comfortable as the head coach and helping out in any way that he can.
SLAM: How did your relationship grow with Coach Fisher during Summer League?
THJ: It was big. He definitely saw me as a leader for that specific team in the Summer League. I wanted to be a great role model for the guys and be a true professional since I’ve been in the League already for a year now. He wanted me to go out there and encourage guys and work on things I need to work on to get better, and continue with that pace moving forward.
SLAM: How do you see yourself fitting in specifically with the Triangle Offense?
THJ: I don’t see nothing really different from what I did in the Summer League. You got to give maximum effort when you’re running it. You got to trust one another when you’re on the court. That’s the only way it’s successful, and we showed it when we were playing the Summer League.
SLAM: Do you think of Jackson’s championship teams when playing the Triangle?
THJ: Yeah, you obviously have to think about those. That’s what got them to win it. And obviously, with having Michael Jordan and Scottie and then Kobe and Shaq. It was great to watch a lot of those games on NBA TV Hardwood Classics and just see how they ran the Triangle Offense, how they defended and how they just won games.
SLAM: You once said that Kings rookie Nik Stauskas had the best work ethic you’ve ever seen. Would you say that’s still true having worked with more pros?
THJ: His work ethic was the greatest I’d ever seen in college. Professional is a totally different ballgame. You got guys who are constantly working out throughout the summer, not taking no days off. I was saying that I’ve never seen that from a college player since I’ve been there. Now that you’re a professional, you really get to see how people work very, very hard. And that’s not only on the basketball court. That’s through training, getting better in the weight room, conditioning, eating the right foods. It’s a lot more than just basketball. Nik is going to get better each and every day. He’s still got a long way to go, but he definitely has the backbone.
SLAM: Which NBA players have impressed you with their work ethic?
THJ: I know Melo works very, very hard. He slimmed down great. He looks good right now. JR Smith is a ball of energy out there when he’s working out. It’s kind of hard—you got 30 teams out there, so anybody can be working hard each and every day.
SLAM: When did you start getting into Call of Duty?
THJ: The first time I played it was in college. I really wasn’t a big fan of those types of games, shooting games. I’m more of a Madden and NBA 2K guy. When I first started playing it with my teammates, I realized it was a great bonding for the team. Multiple guys could play it, and you could play online. So it was fun and exciting to play it with those guys. That’s why I continue to play it.
SLAM: Advanced Warfare is on the way. How long have you been waiting to get your hands on a copy and who do you play CoD with most of the time?
THJ: For now, I kind of play by myself. I like to do the story modes and stuff like that. I’m not really big into the online stuff. I play with friends of teammates. I been waiting for the game for a minute now, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it and see what new features they have on there. It gets better and better each and every year.
SLAM: Which teammates do you play the game with?
THJ: It’s the young guys that play video games like myself, Toure Murry, we’re the youngest guys on the team. Most of the guys have families, so it’s kind of tough for them to get out for the games and stuff like that. I know myself and Toure Murry, we played some of the games, and it was a great way for us to kill time, to bond, to talk about stuff on the court, off the court. It was a great way to stay in touch.
SLAM: Would you like to be the starting SG this season?
THJ: I don’t know why people keep asking that question. Obviously, who doesn’t want to be a starting shooting guard in the NBA for a team? But you still have to compete with the best, and whatever decision coach makes is the decision you got to go with. You just got to go out there, put it on the court and do what you can to get better each and every day.