All hail Tim Hardaway Jr.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - We don't usually learn much during All-Star weekend.

Sure, there are a few lessons we can take away from the experience. I bet staying out until 5 a.m. with Jalen Rose offers all kinds of life lessons. And if the last three celebrity games have taught us anything it's that our Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, can play with the best of 'em (Kevin Hart? Not so much).

But in the midst of this year's All-Star shenanigans, which included an hour of Charles Barkley, Shaquille O'Neal and Kenny "The Jet" Smith being terrible at every sport except basketball, I can honestly say that I learned something.

And that something is that Tim Hardaway Jr. can ball.

I guess if I were to take the time to consider Hardaway's basketball lineage (his pop was pretty good in the 90s), this should have been a pretty obvious realization. But sometimes you just have to see these things for yourself.

Hardaway Jr. annihilated Team Hill in the Rising Stars Game by pouring in a game-high 36 points on 12-for-23 shooting. He drilled seven of his 16 three- point attempts.

I sense your judgment already, America.

"Come on, Jesse. Tim Jr. was 'Tim Not Even Born Yet' the last time we saw someone play defense in the Rookie Game."

I won't argue that. Thirty-six points against a team full of rookies isn't quite the same as LeBron tossing up 33 and taking an elbow to the face versus Serge Ibaka in OKC. In terms of intensity, that's ten against two.

But if you think Hardaway's 36 points doesn't mean SOMETHING, you are sadly mistaken. The last four players to lead the Rising Stars Game in scoring are Kyrie Irving (twice), Kenneth Faried, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Two of those guys went on to become All-Star Game MVPs.

And if that wasn't enough to convince you, just look at what Tim has done recently. Since Christmas, he's averaged 10.8 ppg, an achievement that is Nobel Peace Prize-worthy when you consider New York's extreme logjam at shooting guard (J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Beno Udrih and Pablo Prigioni have all seen minutes there this season).

Indeed, Hardaway Jr. ranks fourth in rookie scoring despite playing only 21.3 minutes per game. The three scorers ahead of him (Michael Carter-Williams, Trey Burke and Victor Oladipo) are all averaging over 30. If Hardaway Jr. played as much as MCW, he'd be averaging 15.4 ppg. That's a tick more than Joe Johnson (15.3 ppg), who just represented the Eastern Conference in last week's All-Star Game.

If you've ever watched Hardaway Jr. play, you can see his blowup potential. He already has six games this season with at least four three-pointers. That's Stephen Curry-like.

In a roundtable discussion with Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose on ESPN, former Brooklyn coach Avery Johnson called Hardaway Jr. "the best shooter in the [2013] draft." It's a lofty claim, but the stats seem to back it up. Of the league's top-ten rookie scorers this season, nobody has shot for a higher percentage than Hardaway Jr. (45.2 percent).

The Knicks truly are a puzzling organization. Grabbing Hardaway Jr. after 23 teams passed on him in the draft was a brilliant maneuver. But then it took head coach Mike Woodson nearly two months to properly utilize him. Hardaway Jr. had to wait until December 21st to finally see 30 minutes of playing time in a game.

With frustration mounting over J.R. Smith's inconsistency and Iman Shumpert out with an MCL sprain, this is Hardaway's time to shine. Yet some of you (edit: a lot of you) still aren't drinking the Kool-Aid. At the time of this printing, Hardaway Jr. was available in almost 91 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues.

What's up with that? Well, maybe I haven't been completely honest with you guys. See as much as I love Hardaway's game, there are still lots of flaws that need to be addressed. Chief among them is shot selection.

A mere 27.2 percent of Hardaway's field goal attempts have come from inside the paint. Compare that to James Harden's 42.6 percent. That might also be why Harden is sixth in the league in free throw attempts while Hardaway Jr. is 185th.

Another criticism you'll hear is that Hardaway Jr. is one-dimensional. Until he improves his rebounding (1.5 rpg) and passes the rock a bit more (0.9 apg), that reputation won't go away.

But let's not lose sight of this. Hardaway Jr. is overachieving on a team where underachieving has been the norm.

Hardaway Jr. is the next big thing in the Big Apple.

Class dismissed.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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