The Tim Hardaway Jr. project in Atlanta has been somewhat of a rollercoaster ride. Many did not approve of the Atlanta Hawks acquisition of him on draft night back in June of 2015, and I admittedly was one that questioned the move just as others did.
While it has yet to be seen whether or not Hardaway's time in Atlanta will be worth it or not, he's certainly shown flashes in the Hawks' past four games. The third-year guard has averaged 17.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.5 assists in 25.2 minutes per game. Hardaway has also boasted a 58.5 percent field goal percentage, and 54.2 percent from deep.
In hindsight, Hardaway's broken wrist he suffered in the Summer League was worse than what was initially believed. The injury, along with learning a new system, and coach Mike Budenholzer wanting him to become a better defensive player held him back. But Hardaway kept working at it and got into game shape, and if he's able to show continuous production, could be key for the future of the franchise.
Budenholzer is certainly pleased with the results. He told USA TODAY's Ray Glier, "We're happy with the way Tim has responded. He had an injury that was a little bit understated," Budenholzer said. "The ultimate goal in our league is to be a two-way player. I think he has the athleticism where he can be a good two-way guy. He's on his way."
So what about Hardaway's game specifically has led to his success? We can start with his offense, something we had an idea that he could do when he first came to Atlanta. His athleticism and shooting ability has been a problem for the opposition, who have been so focused on stopping the rest of the Hawks who have been on the floor all year.
For instance, here against the Wizards Hardaway slips behind the defense on the fastbreak, who is focused on stopping Kyle Korver on the three point line, along with a cutting Mike Scott and Paul Millsap. Korver makes a risky cross-court pass to Hardaway, who knocks down the open three, which he worked to improve on prior to his entry in the league:
His athleticism, combined with his ability in the fastbreak and to finish at the basket was something we knew Hardaway was capable of as well, and he's shown that he's reliable in said situations. Against the Wizards, the focus was largely on Millsap and Horford, which the Wizards were able to combat pretty well with their size underneath the basket in Marcin Gortat and Nene.
On this particular break against the Wizards, Hardaway catches Otto Porter Jr. backpedaling, with Paul Millsap stretching the floor as he heads towards the sideline, dragging Gortat with him, giving himself the easy finish at the rim:
Of course, Mike Budenholzer's concern with Hardaway was on the defensive end of the floor. The reasoning given for his absence, even when deemed healthy, has been able to get him in the type of shape to help him play the defense that is expected of him from his coach. Now, Hardaway has been getting minutes later in games for defensive purposes, something that was not expected of him early on.
It was something Al Horford mentioned to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the Hawks' game against the Denver Nuggets. "Defensively he is bringing it," Horford said. "When he can play defense the way he is playing, it just makes us a better team."
Here against the Houston Rockets, after a great dunk on the offensive end of the floor, Hardaway fakes a closeout of the lane on Michael Beasley, who thinks he has enough daylight to get the ball to Trevor Ariza in the corner. Hardaway is easily and quickly able to intercept the pass, and lead the Hawks on a fastbreak, that almost results in an assist for him, but Thabo Sefolosha is unable to convert on an open three:
In the same game, Hardaway shows his stuff on both ends of the floor.
On this particular sequence, Hardaway quickly reads Beasley on the defensive end of the floor, and begins to close out on Brewer, whose reaction to Beasley was slower than that of Hardaway. At this point, Hardaway has Brewer locked down. After denying the ball and a missed Dwight Howard basket, Hardaway is able to sneak along the baseline, and get a three up and over Beasley:
We are looking at a small, four game sample from Hardaway, but the Hawks have been clicking as of late, and his contributions have undoubtedly played a part in that. Hardaway and the Hawks are starting to play some of their better basketball of the season, and it's coming at the perfect time.
There is still plenty of time to see whether or not the trade on draft night will pay off for the Hawks. But Hardaway's play as of late has everybody feeling even just a little bit better about it, and gives those that questioned the move (myself included) reason for optimism.