The acquisition of Tim Hardaway Jr. was probably the most controversial move made by the Atlanta Hawks this offseason. We spent just about the entire 2015 season talking about Atlanta's ability to swap picks with the Brooklyn Nets as a result of the Joe Johnson trade. A late surge by the Nets elevated them into the playoffs and cost the Hawks a potential lottery pick. Still, Atlanta surprised many when they traded down to the 19th pick and then shipped that pick to New York in exchange for Hardaway.
To Hardaway's credit, he seems to understand the situation and that the Hawks paid a high price to obtain his services. At Monday's media day, he called the opportunity to play for Atlanta "a new beginning" and is focused on fitting in and helping the team any way that he can.
"It felt great," Hardaway said when asked how he felt when he learned he was going to Atlanta. "I felt inspired and I felt a lot of weight off my shoulders. I felt like it is a new beginning for me. I am excited to be a part of this and ready to get things going."
Its interesting that he described the trade as being a weight lifted off his shoulders because that illustrates what it was like playing for the Knicks last season. Hardaway certainly has some flaws in his game dating back to his days in college, but its hard to evaluate him as a player on what was a terrible Knicks team.
One area Hardaway is going to have to improve if he wants court time in Atlanta is on the defensive end of the floor. Recently ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh described Hardaway as "a shameless gunner who plays matador defense." He went a step further saying that Hardaway simply "just doesn't care about defense." I found that interesting given Hardaway's answer when reporters asked him what sort of skills he brings to the Hawks.
"I think I can bring to the team more defense, more defense and more defense," Hardaway said. "I'm constantly in the weight room, constantly working on lower body, constantly getting defensive habits down pat. Picking these guys brains like Thabo and Bazemore, guys that are quick and play defense the right way. So I'm just trying to do whatever I can to help this team."
I'm not going to dispute Haberstroh's claim. Hardaway Jr. was a terrible defender last year. However, the mindset for a player changes when playing for a team that isn't going anywhere over playing for a team that expects to make a deep playoff run. Turning Hardaway into an adequate defender will be the coaching staff's biggest challenge, the good news is it sounds like he is ready to put in the work.
Hardaway's real talent though is offensively and he is excited to participate in Budenholzer's system. I asked him to describe the difference in playing within the Hawks system and that of the Triangle which was utilized by the Knicks.
"The triangle is a system where you really have to bring your fundamentals of the game back, all the way back to when you started playing the game of basketball," Hardaway said. "With the passing, making the correct pass, cutting the right way but also still being a player at the same time. Coming from that to this offense where everything happens randomly, you're reading the defense, you're out there just playing the game of basketball how you would if you weren't trying to get into the NBA or in college. Its just a different feel. Your mindset is always constantly on triangle, triangle, triangle but you're not on that team anymore so you have to slow down a little bit, run the lane now a little bit or roll up when a guy is coming off the pick and roll. Just all of the little things like that make the game fun and exciting. It is tough but at the same time you feel good about it and that is what training camp is about. Just getting back to your old ways and habits."
One of the most interesting things about the 2016 season will be watching the development of Hardaway Jr. The Hawks have prided themselves on developing all of their players and taking their games to new levels. Hardaway may be their biggest challenge yet, but he seems excited to get started.