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Pumping the brakes on the Tim Hardaway Jr. hype train

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Tim Hardaway Jr. is playing improved basketball, but let's all slow down.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Hardaway Jr. is (finally) starting to make an impact for the Atlanta Hawks, and that is a good thing.

The 23-year-old shooting guard appeared in only four games for the Hawks before the calendar flipped to 2016 and, in general, Hardaway Jr. was a complete non-factor in the early part of the season. Since that time, his playing time has increased exponentially, to the point where he is now playing 17.5 minutes per game in the month of February. With that bump in deployment and some positive impact during his playing time, the hype machine has begun to churn surrounding Tim Hardaway Jr. and, well, things are getting a bit out of control.

Since the time he arrived in Atlanta much has been made of the draft day trade that includes the Hawks essentially dealing their 15th overall selection (twice) to end up with Hardaway Jr. and some future draft flotsam. In the moment (and after the fact), the deal was almost universally panned by those in Atlanta and nationally, simply because the value associated with a mid-first round pick was not commensurate with what Hardaway Jr. had displayed during his time with the Knicks. His early-season disappearing act did nothing to quell the feeling that the Hawks violently overpaid for his services, but now, there seems to be a shift in thinking that has resulted in some claiming "victory" for Atlanta's side of the deal.

Much of this sentiment is tied directly to the failures of New York Knicks rookie guard Jerian Grant and that doesn't make a great deal of sense. No intelligence exists that projects that the Hawks would have selected Grant with their first-round selection, so a one-for-one comparison between the two players is nonsensical in a variety of ways. Beyond that reality, though, Tim Hardaway Jr. hasn't been nearly as good in his recent time as the optics may suggest.

Undeniably, Hardaway Jr.'s play has improved in February. He is now averaging a modest 6.2 points per game in the month, but his defensive energy has been encouraging, and there are flashes of what his athleticism can bring in transition. On the whole, though, his performance hasn't exactly been awe-inspiring. For context, Hardaway Jr.'s season-long PER sits at 9.6, with a mediocre 51% true shooting and an underwhelming 26% clip from three-point range. Shooting isn't everything, especially for a player with Hardaway Jr.'s explosiveness, but it is (very) difficult to justify a larger role for the third-year guard without an uptick in his efficiency.

In the interest of fairness, Tim Hardaway Jr. has been better than I thought he would be when evaluating only the last few weeks of play, and that is directly tied to his defensive effort. He will likely never be an impact player on that end of the floor, but if he simply tries (as he has been) at a higher level than he displayed at Michigan or with the Knicks, the results could be acceptable or even slightly better. Still, the rush to anoint him as the "shooting guard of the future" or any claim that he is lighting the world on fire would be misplaced.

Tim Hardaway Jr. is yet another example of Atlanta's organizational philosophy of "fixing" young veterans, and the recent results are very encouraging with regard to another potential success story. Until it comes to fruition, though, it would be best to pump the brakes on his coronation and if compelled to justify the team's draft day decision to acquire him, make sure to note that the Hawks willingly gave up two years of future control and essentially punted on the market value of a mid-first round pick.