Tim Hardaway Jr. is more talented than Lamar Patterson.
One was a first-round draft pick that required an exchange of another first-round draft pick to be acquired. One was a second-round pick that was effectively shipped off to Europe for a year of seasoning before returning to make a real contribution.
One is cemented in the Atlanta Hawks rotation right now. It isn't Tim Hardaway Jr., and it isn't the former first-round pick with the lofty pedigree.
Of course, none of this comes as a surprise to anyone closely monitoring the Hawks during the 2015-2016 season, as Patterson has appeared in 26 games while Hardaway has seen action on only four occasions while routinely being listed as inactive. Still, the decision made by Mike Budenholzer and the organization to back Patterson as something of a key cog this season was put to the test by a visit from Hardaway's former team, the New York Knicks, on Saturday evening.
Patterson and Budenholzer passed that test.
With all of the caveats of a one-game sample size, Patterson enjoyed the best game of his NBA career against the Knicks. The former Pittsburgh swingman scored "only" seven points in 16 minutes, but he was 3-for-4 from the field including a three, and Patterson added three rebounds and two assists during his stint on the floor.
Following the game, Budenholzer gave an illuminating quote on what the team values from Patterson and what he saw particularly in this game (bold emphasis mine):
"I think his play-making is probably the thing, along with competing defensively, his playmaking is what gets him on the court. He makes great decisions, makes reads and sees passes that are pretty high-level. When he’s doing that and making a few plays…. he’s a very good, diverse player."
Many observers, myself included, have openly wondered why Patterson would see extended time ahead of the likes of Hardaway Jr. and, more specifically, Justin Holiday this season. However, Patterson's lead skill of play-making was on full display in this particular game, as he broke down the defense and dropped off effective and efficient passes at opportune times.
It must be noted that Patterson's shooting (35% FG, 24% 3-PT) this season has limited his ability to emphasize that skill, but its existence was clearly defined here. When compared to Hardaway, the organization's viewpoint also becomes illuminated.
While the former Michigan and Knicks guard can undoubtedly score, he has never been known for playmaking (2.0 assists per 36 minutes in New York) and his defense has always been less than spectacular to put it mildly. It would be aggressive to suggest that Patterson is a stopper of any sort on that end, but he competes in a big way against more talented opponents and isn't seen as a zero in the way that Hardaway could be perceived.
Mike Budenholzer didn't mention Tim Hardaway Jr.'s name in the aftermath of Saturday night's game, but he almost did not have to. There is a reason, or several reasons, that Lamar Patterson remains in the rotation while Tim Hardaway Jr. remains in a tailored suit, and Patterson drove the point home for all to see against the Knicks.