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Has a return to the bench sparked a renaissance for Tim Hardaway?

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Hardaway is back on the second unit, and loving every minute of it.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

After watching the past five games I have come to one inescapable conclusion: The New York Knicks have been kidnapped and replaced by pod people.

How else can you explain this squad? Not only are they suddenly winning games, they are doing so with a pack of 10-day-contract folk and a defense that is giving up an absurd 97.8 points per 100 possessions during this hot streak (keep in mind: the top defense in the league allows 100.2 points per 100 possessions).

While most of the attention and credit for this recent surge belongs to the likes of Langston Galloway, Lance Thomas and Lou Amundson (Yes, that sentence was as weird to type as it is to read), we shouldn't overlook the contributions of Tim Hardaway Jr. Young Timmy went oh-double-eff off on the Thunder in the fourth quarter Wednesday, dropping 11 points to help counteract the late-game dominance of Russell Westbrook (13 points) as the Knicks avoided their usual clutch collapse and held on for the 100-92 win.

Perhaps more surprising than the hot shooting -- which was still pretty damn surprising given how Tim has shot this year -- was the display of top-notch defense. In the span of one minute Hardaway forced Reggie Jackson into chucking an air-ball three at the end of the shot clock, then spoiled a beautiful Westbrook dish by stuffing Kendrick Perkins at the rim. I highly suggest you watch this clip multiple times; it's simply delightful.

That performance capped off an impressive five-game stretch for Hardaway, per NBA.com:

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that this uptick in play coincides precisely with Hardaway being replaced in the starting lineup by Galloway. Tim has struggled most of this season, and was clearly in over his head as the team's starting shooting guard, particularly during that stretch in early January when Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire were both out with injuries.

Even this recent hot stretch has not pushed Hardaway's overall 2014-15 field goal percentage over the 40-percent mark; he's shooting 39.4 percent for the season, 33.6 percent from beyond the arc. Knicks fans can only take solace in the fact that he has improved every other facet of his game:

  • 2013-14 (per 36 minutes): 2.5 FTA, 2.3 RB, 1.3 AST
  • 2014-15 (per 36 minutes): 3.4 FTA, 3.1 RB, 2.7 AST

These improvements aren't huge by any measure, but I have been impressed with his passing. He's been making quality dishes like this one (courtesy of BJabs) a couple of times a game:

Tim Hardaway built his reputation last season exclusively with his ability to get buckets. His shooting has been so terrible, and he has had so far to come in every other area of the game, that it would be easy to judge this season as a massive step backward based solely on the numbers.

But there has been growth in Hardaway's game. Now he is back in the role for which he is best suited -- off the bench. If his shooting gets back on track, he just might be able to turn a lost season into a true step forward.