By ADRIANO TORRES
GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) _ The Knicks guarded against the possibility of losing long-range shooter J.R. Smith to free agency by taking Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr. with the 24th pick Thursday night.
Hardaway played three seasons for the Wolverines, leaving after a junior season in which he averaged 14.5 points per game and helped Michigan reach the championship game of the NCAA tournament. The Wolverines lost to Louisville.
The Knicks had Smith and Iman Shumpert getting most of the minutes at shooting guard/small forward last season. Hardaway will either provide depth behind those two or maybe help the Knicks replace Smith, who is an unrestricted free agent.
The pick received rave reviews and big cheers from the Knicks fans at Barclays Center _ and a standing ovation from his coach. John Beilein was attending the draft with Michigan point guard Trey Burke, who was selected ninth overall by the Timberwolves and then traded to Utah.
“We’re in a position where we want to win right now, so we don’t have a lot of time to develop,” Knicks general manager said Glen Grunwald said in a late news conference at the team’s facility in Greenburgh.
Hardaway’s father played in the NBA from 1989-2003, including five seasons with the Miami Heat when he was part of a heated rivalry with the Knicks. Tim Hardaway was one of the NBA’s most prolific little guys. Checking in at 6-feet and averaging 17 points per game during a career, he made the All-Star team five times. And he tormented the Knicks.
His son is 6-6 and not quite the scorer that his father was. But the younger Hardaway was a consistent contributor in each of his three seasons at Michigan averaging 13.9 points as a freshman and 14.6 as a sophomore.
“We looked at getting the best player available, secondly someone who could contribute right away and the third criteria was filling a need on our team,” Grunwald said. “You could say we have needs across the board in terms of position, but it’s also true we only have two players under contract at the guard position (Iman Shumpert and Raymond Felton). It’s definitely a need, but I think the primary reason we drafted him is we felt he’s the best player available.”
Hardaway Jr. gives the Knicks, who shot more 3-pointers than any team in league history, another long-range shooter. He made 37 percent of his 3s last season.
“He’s obviously got some good bloodlines there from a guy who had a great NBA career,” Grunwald said, adding that son was just like father, a fierce competitor. “We were impressed with his interview. We were impressed with his shooting, his athleticism and his overall demeanor.”
Smith, the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, has informed the Knicks that he would be turning down the player option on his deal, instead choosing to be a free agent. New York already extended a qualifying offer to forward Chris Copeland and point guard Pablo Prigioni, making both players restricted free agents and giving the team the option to match any deal.
Grunwald shied away from forecasting the team’s upcoming free agency plans, particularly Smith’s future with the team. New York can offer Smith up to $5 million a year with standard raised over the course of four years.
“We’re going to do what we can to get J.R. back,” the general manager said.
AP Sports Writer Ralph D. Russo contributed.