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Tim Hardaway Jr. says he has to be more of a playmaker than just a scorer

The Knicks' Tim Hardaway Jr. takes a shot

The Knicks' Tim Hardaway Jr. takes a shot in the second half against the Celtics at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Much of the focus was on his defense after Friday’s loss in Brooklyn, but Tim Hardaway Jr. also pointed out that he thought he took too many shots.

He had fired up 25 shots in 36 minutes, but that was not all that unusual; in the opening game two nights earlier, he took 22 shots in just under 29 minutes. And if you didn’t believe he was going to ease up on firing away, all you had to do was wait until the next game. He put up 21 shots in 37 minutes Saturday — and was stopped there only by the Celtics’ smothering defense, which prevented the Knicks from putting the ball in his hands in the final minute.

Hardaway’s contention that he wants to shoot less might not fit with the Knicks’ needs right now. Already playing without Kristaps Porzingis as he rehabilitates a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, they lost Kevin Knox to a sprained left ankle in the first quarter Saturday, taking another scorer out of the lineup.

An MRI on Sunday confirmed the sprain. Knox will not travel with the team on its two-game road trip to Milwaukee and Miami and will be re-evaluated in one week.

When it was suggested to Hardaway that the Knicks might need more offense from him right now as they face the unbeaten Bucks on Monday, he stuck to his contention that he has to be more of a playmaker.

“I was trying to get my teammates involved, just trying to pick and choose my spots wisely,” Hardaway said. “Once I see one or two go in, then I try to get in that flow and feel the game. Sometimes I’ve got to be aggressive. My teammates want me to do that. But at the same time, I’m going to continue to get my teammates involved and make sure everybody is good while we’re out there and playing hard.”

Hardaway’s 23.8 field-goal attempts per 36 minutes, even in this small sample, is on pace to be the most of his career by far.  Last  season, for example, he shot 16.3 times per 36 minutes. He has shot 28-for-68 (.412) from the field and 11-for-28 (.393) from three-point range and is averaging 28.0 points per game. But the Knicks have few other options this season as they preach development and focus on defense.

Coach David Fizdale has put defensive-minded Lance Thomas and Frank Ntilikina in the starting lineup, and with Knox sidelined, Hardaway is the best option for scoring.

“What he said [Friday] night, I talked to the team and talked to him [about],” Fizdale said. “I thought he showed great leadership on his part to own the last possession defensively and also own how many shots he took. I really didn’t have a problem with his shot attempts. Brooklyn was doing a good job on Enes [Kanter] defensively and he started slow. And Timmy is our perimeter offensive weapon.”

Mario Hezonja could fill some of that need, but has been criticized for his lack of defense.  He was critiqued on Twitter by a former Knicks official Sunday morning -- Clarence Gaines, a scout who was brought in by Phil Jackson and let go when his contract ran out after last season.

Gaines, who was influential in the drafting of Ntilikina, Porzingis and Damyean Dotson, tweeted, “If you’re a @nyknicks fan & wondering why @mariohezonja couldn’t EARN court time vs @celtics with @KevKnox going down it’s because he’s a huge liability as an individual defender. He couldn’t match the toughness or athleticism of the C’s wings. Love how @wholeteamDot competed.”

That may change, even if his defense is lacking. While Hezonja has played little (42 minutes through three games), his 18.9 field-goal attempts per 36 minutes is second only to Hardaway.  

On Saturday, Dotson played 22 minutes in Knox’s absence after not playing the first two games.

“I told him all through preseason: ‘I trust you, kid. You’re a player,’  ” Fizdale said of Dotson. “He’s exactly what we are looking for in a player. You’re going to see Dot playing. He’s earned the right to get out on that court. I was really happy with the way he kept himself ready. That’s a real professional approach for a young kid.

“Going through preseason, you can say easily he should’ve been in the rotation right away. But I’m looking at 12 young kids that I’ve got to figure out, so it took a minute to get to it. But he’s definitely earned the right. The guys in the locker room trust him. It doesn’t hurt that he can shoot it. We need the shooting.”

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