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Why bringing Tim Hardaway Jr off the bench makes sense

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The Atlanta Hawks made a lineup change on Monday. Was it the correct one?

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks made a lineup change prior to Monday’s big win over the Boston Celtics. With Thabo Sefolosha back in full health, Mike Budenholzer elected to return him to the starting lineup in place of Tim Hardaway Jr. The immediate results were good, as Atlanta turned in one of its most spirited performances in some time. However, is it the right move from a long term standpoint?

By any measure, Hardaway’s emergence has been one of the biggest stories of the season for the Hawks. He is averaging career highs in minutes, points per game, field goal percentage, rebounds and assists. In addition, the Hawks have been really good with him on the floor, outscoring opponents by 149 points according to NBA.com’s Stats page. They have been outscored by 196 points when Hardaway sits.

The advanced numbers back that up. Hardaway leads the team with a 4.4 net rating when on the floor. Their net rating drops to minus-5.9 when he sits. There is no disputing that Hardaway has been a catalyst for the Hawks this season but we need to dig deeper to find an answer to the question.

First, it is worth mentioning that there are only have 17 games worth of available data for Hardaway as a starter versus 40 games worth of him coming off the bench. Still, there are some trends to point out which might help understand Mike Budenholzer’s thinking.

Hardaway has been more efficient as a reserve with a slight dip in his overall shooting percentage and from three-point range. The big difference however is in his advanced numbers.

Hardaway has actually posted a significantly higher net rating as a reserve at +7.1 versus a net of +0.4 when he is in the starting lineup. Dive a little deeper and you see the context. He has actually posted a higher offensive rating (109.8) as a starter when compared to a bench role (105.9). However, he falls off the cliff defensively, posting a 109.4 defensive rating as a starter compared to a stellar 98.9 mark as a reserve.

The Hawks are 20-10 this season with Thabo Sefolosha in the starting lineup. They are just 9-8 when Hardaway starts. Again, there is a pretty big difference in sample size but you can see which direction the advanced stats are trending.

That isn’t to say that Hardaway hasn’t been important to this team, just that his greatest value may be in a bench role where his efficiency is maximized.