Hardaway Emerges as Vocal Leader

When the Knicks signed Tim Hardaway Jr. to a lucrative free agent deal over the summer, they believed they were getting a scoring swingman on the verge of stardom.

They might have gotten more.

Hardaway, despite missing nearly six weeks with a stress reaction injury in his leg, has been everything the Knicks hoped he would be – a three-point threat, a transition weapon, and a vigorous defender.

After the Knicks 127-107 loss at the Lakers on Sunday, Hardaway again exhibited traits the great players possess – a willingness to tell it like it is.

Alan Hahn, Wally Szczerbiak and Bill Pidto break down the Knicks-Lakers game at Staples Center, where New York was unable to put away Los Angeles in the fourth quarter.

“It is very frustrating,’’ Hardaway said. “What’d you see out there? They wanted it more. We can’t let that happen. It shouldn’t be happening. Both teams should be competing at an equal pace.”

As Kristaps Porzingis continues to grow into the face of the franchise, Hardaway appears poised to offer more of a verbal leadership role.

That has been a void since the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony, who for years was the player most respected in the locker room. If there was a criticism or a critique that needed to be expressed by a player, Melo was the one to do it.

[Watch Knicks-Warriors Tuesday on MSG & MSG GO]

KP, 22, has handled the expected challenges as the No.1 option and the No.1 target of the opposition well. He has an engaging personality but at this point, isn’t about to police the locker room.

Hardaway, who will turn 26 in March and is in his second stint with the Knicks, seems more comfortable as the voice in the locker room. It’s a role he grew into while playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State.

Alan Hahn and Wally Szczerbiak take a closer look at the performances from Tim Hardaway Jr. and Kristaps Porzingis at Staples Center.

The Knicks took Hardaway with the 24th pick in the 2013 draft. He was traded after the 2015 season. When the Knicks brought him back, he said he was ready for a leadership role.

“I’m a mature player now and everything is in full effect,’’ Hardaway said. “I’m taking everything very serious. I know the team that I’m going to be on is taking everything very seriously and we have a lot of talent. It’s going to be a great season, I believe. And hopefully, everybody will get on board with it.’’

The Knicks (21-26) face one of their toughest games of the season Tuesday night when they play the defending champion Warriors (37-10) in Oakland (10:30 p.m.; MSG Network).

The Warriors have won 8-of-10 but are coming off a loss to the Rockets in Houston. This is their first home game since Jan. 11, when they got blasted, 125-106, by the Clippers.

Jeff Hornacek addresses the media following a tough loss to the Lakers at Staples Center.

The Knicks are playing their fifth game of a seven-game road swing. They are 2-2 on the trip and are looking to improve on their 6-17 road record. The loss in L.A., followed by Hardaway’s words, should still be ringing when the Knicks take the court.

“We didn’t get enough stops today,’’ Hardaway said. “We really didn’t get any stops. That team is so well-energized, well-coached. They do a great job of crashing the glass, going hard on every possession, diving on the floor. You could tell they want it.’’

The Knicks have played that way at times, especially at The Garden, where they are 15-9. But, when the Knicks get away from their defensive mindset, the results can be ugly, as they were in L.A.

“We can’t be the team that tries to outscore somebody, especially on the road,” coach Jeff Hornacek said. “On the road you got to win it with defense, you got to get stops.”

Sometimes that message is best delivered by a player. And right now, that player is Hardaway.

[Watch Knicks-Warriors Tuesday on MSG & MSG GO]