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The Hawks Need Tim Hardaway to Make a Second Season Jump

Can Tim Hardaway (efficiently) shoot the Hawks up the Eastern Conference standings?

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Detroit Pistons
Tim Hardaway has his sights set on an improved second season in Atlanta.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

A few years ago, foie gras exploded onto the food scene. Fatty duck or goose liver on your sandwich or burger? Shut the front door! People went nuts for a time, then the craze cooled off. Tim Hardaway Jr. was foie gras to me when the Hawks traded their 2015 first round pick for the shooting guard. A stellar rookie year resulting in the NBA All Rookie Team? I’ll have some of that! Then, he followed up the promising freshman year with the classic sophomore slump, playing about the same minutes per game with declined shooting percentages and doubled turnovers.

The Tim Hardaway Jr. experience in Atlanta has been anything but a five star meal. Starting the season collecting DNP-CDs (Coach’s Decision) is never the way a young vet wants to start with a new team. Eventually, Tim Hardaway Jr. made his way slowly into the rotation. He progressed through the season from benchwarmer to occasionally exciting shooter with underrated defensive chops.

Now that his first season as a Hawk has passed, is THJ ready to make the second year jump that landed DeMarre Carroll and Kent Bazemore contracts totaling $130 million? Living up to those contracts may be hard to do as both players were full time starters by their second seasons. Kyle Korver is the entrenched starter at shooting guard, but let’s see what a second year jump can look like for Tim Hardaway Jr. and what that would mean for the Atlanta Hawks.

The most important part needed for a second year improvement is shooting, specifically from distance. Let’s use the transitive property here for a moment. The Hawks need 3 point shooting. Tim Hardaway Jr. can be a good 3 point shooter. Therefore, the Hawks need Tim Hardaway to be a good 3 point shooter. A consistent 3 point threat could not only add increased value to THJ as a player, but also keep defenses honest by respecting his ability to catch and shoot.

As previously mentioned, Hardaway Jr. seemed more like a Men’s Warehouse model showing off his suit collection on the bench (THJ might have liked the way he looked, but he would have preferred to play. I guarantee it.) before learning Bud’s system and becoming part of the Hawks’ rotation. His shooting percentages illustrated that adjustment period, especially before and after the NBA All Star game.

Before All Star Weekend

Tim Hardaway Jr.’s shot chart pre All-Star.

Whoa, that is a lot red. Obviously, Hardaway Jr. struggled mightily with his shot, but his 65.5 FG% around the rim was well above the league average of 54.9%. Most concerning was lack of ability to spread the floor with an average from 3 of 24.5%. Such a poor shooting start can be somewhat forgiven as THJ adjusted to Bud’s spread offense. Fear not, as improvement was on the horizon…

After All Star Weekend

Tim Hardaway Jr.’s improved shot chart post All-Star.

Well this looks much better! I especially like all the green sections. Besides marked improvement from the mid range, Hardaway Jr.’s percentage from 3 jumped, more like pole vaulted, from 24.5% to 38.3%. Atlanta’s offensive system requires players who can stretch defenses past the 3 point arc and such an improvement is significant.

The numbers show us that Bud’s system is getting far more open shots from 3 than league average. Unfortunately, the Hawks struggled mightily to sink those open shots in the 2015-2016 season, depicted in the following graph.

The Hawks have a large discrepancy between creating 3 point shots and sinking them.

With open 3s galore, Hardaway Jr. increasing his 3 point percentage to 40% for the coming season could be the exact kind of jump that could increase THJ’s value and open up more space for the Hawks’ offense to operate. That kind of consistent space matched with production leads to more nights like the one where Hardaway Jr. make it rain on the Rockets last season.

Lighting up the Rockets by draining five out of seven 3s in a competitive game (82-83 after three quarters) is a thing of beauty. Hardaway Jr. shows up wide open again and again from distance. This 20 point night against Dwight Howard’s old team illustrates how Bud’s system can open space for shooters (most of those 3s are poorly contested) and how THJ can thrive if he consistently makes buckets from deep.

With Howard entering the mix, it is a reasonable assumption that pick and roll will become more heavily emphasized to highlight Howard’s finishing abilities and Dennis Schröder’s explosiveness. Keeping the defense stretched with the threat of Korver and, hopefully, Hardaway Jr.’s deep shooting will be vital. That threat forces defenses to be honest and does not allow them to cheat over to help against pick and roll situations.

Tim Hardaway Jr.’s minutes may not increase to more than 20 or so minutes from the 16.9 he averaged last season. But, he can make a substantial impact as a release valve from defensive pressure to the primary offensive options of Millsap, Howard, and Schröder. Being able to consistently shoot from deep can also make him a primary scoring option for the Hawks’ second unit.

Can THJ jump to the heights of Carroll and Bazemore in their sophomore campaigns? Will fatty bird livers make a comeback in the farm to table movement? Neither seem likely to take the world by storm again, but at least Hardaway Jr. has the potential to be a valuable part of the Hawks’ rotation this year. As for foie gras, it can stay off my plate for the foreseeable future.