Tim Hardaway Jr. has had a confusing tenure in Atlanta so far. Although the Hawks traded a first round pick for him during the 2015 draft, the former Knicks player has struggled to break into the rotation, and was even demoted to the D-league several times last year.
According to Mike Budenholzer, Hardaway has been working hard this summer to improve his skills and become a more important player to the Hawks. While this may be true, he shot a terrifying 1-13 in Saturday’s preseason loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Of course, one game is too small of a sample size to draw any meaningful conclusions from, but this is far from a confidence-inspiring start to say the least.
At his best Tim Hardaway Jr. could still be a meaningful contributor to the Hawks. At his worst, though, he may not even have a spot on the team after this season. With limited roster spots and talented rookies on the team, Hardaway may be facing his last chance to prove his value.
Hardaway’s clearest path to more minutes this year would be to establish himself as an offensive specialist off the bench. While this hasn’t become a reality yet, the potential is certainly there. Solidifying his three-point potential (he shot 36% during his first season) would be an obvious way to improve his skill level, especially for a team with as little shooting as Atlanta.
One reason to hope that Hardaway can continue to improve is the Hawks’ track record with developing young players. Hardaway has had a full year in the Budenholzer system now, and if he is going to ever improve, the time is probably now. His development in the second half of the 2015-16 season suggests that this may be already happening, although it’s far from a guarantee.
On the other hand, though, it’s entirely possible that Hardaway won’t ever be better than he was last year. He struggled on defense for much of the season, and never scored consistently enough to compensate for that. As shown by his extended stint in the D-league, he also didn’t earn Budenholzer’s trust for several months.
Hardaway will be a restricted free agent next summer, and, with Taurean Prince and DeAndre Bembry on the team, he could be facing significant competition for a roster spot by that point. While Hardaway should easily rank ahead of these two on the depth chart in October, it’s entirely possible that this situation could change by April or May.
The best possible version of Tim Hardaway Jr. is a solid shooter who plays close-to-average defense. If he ever develops into this, he could be an important rotation piece who helps the Hawks’ shaky scoring prospects this year. Atlanta is almost desperate for another shooter behind Kyle Korver, and Hardaway would be invaluable to the team if he can bring three-point shooting off the bench. If he doesn’t continue to improve and develop, though, it’s difficult to see a future for him on the team after this season.
As with any young, unproven player, it would be foolish to expect great (or even good) things this season from Hardaway. The Hawks have built a reputation out of improving young players, though, and if he is ever going to fulfill the vision that cost Atlanta a first round pick, the time is now.