Tim Hardaway Jr. No Longer Benched, but Playing Limited Minutes


Tim Hardaway Jr.’s arrival to the Atlanta Hawks this offseason was one of the most controversial moves the franchise made in recent memory.

Instead of drafting a first-year player at 15 in the 2015 NBA Draft, the Atlanta Hawks eschewed their high draft pick despite the second best record in the league in order to trade for Tim Hardaway Jr., an intriguing prospect entering his third season in the NBA. Tim Hardaway showed flashes of hope while with Knicks, but his offensive inconsistencies and lack of defensive prowess were concerning.

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One of the Mike Budenholzer’s draft targets in 2013, the Atlanta Hawks believed that Tim Hardaway Jr. had more upside than other players in the 2015 draft, and with his NBA experience, would become a valued piece on a contending team. The coaching staff and the player development personnel would have to work with Tim Hardaway Jr. in order to get him acclimated to playing in the Hawks motion offense, which is much different from Derek Fisher‘s antiquate triangle. They would also have to get Hardaway to play better defense — something that all players in Budenholzer’s system must do, no matter their offensive ability. 

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Tim Hardaway Jr. had a lackluster preseason, but much to the surprise of many Hawks fans, Tim Hardaway Jr. did not make his Atlanta Hawks debut until this past week — sitting on the Atlanta bench for almost a full month without any playing time. Many speculate on the reason why Hardaway did not play, given the high price the Atlanta Hawks paid for him in the offseason.

Whatever the reason is, I think it has nothing to do with Tim Hardaway Jr.’s offensive ability, but rather his inability to play effective defense. Regardless, Tim Hardaway has now played in the Atlanta Hawks past four games, primarily coming off the bench near the end of the first quarter to spell Kyle Korver. In the 11 minutes per game that Hardaway is playing, he is averaging 2.5 points per contest while shooting only 23 percent from the floor and a 1.0 defensive rating.

Contrast these numbers to Lamar Patterson (the 15th and final player added to the Hawks roster after Training Camp), who is averaging nearly 17 minutes off the bench per night. Patterson is only averaging 4 points per game, but has nearly double the defensive rating as Tim Hardaway Jr. at 1.9. It’s clear that Bud’s rotations are predicated on defensive play and not offensive contributions. 

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While it’s all well and good that Tim Hardaway Jr. is now seeing minutes, what can we expect from the third-year guard? Well it’s difficult to say, given the small sample of data provided thus far this season. What I believe will happen is that Tim Hardaway Jr. will continue to garner increased playing time as the season progresses, given he continues to elevate his defensive play.

The Atlanta Hawks do not possess a “go-to” scoring threat off the bench — and if Tim Hardaway Jr. can improve his defense and fully acclimate to Budenholzer’s offensive schemes, I believe that by the end of the season, he is an active contributor getting significant minutes off the bench. I think that Bud is afford Hardaway a chance to acclimate at a slow pace. There is no need to rush him into the fray, which is detrimental to both him and the team.

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Tim Hardaway Jr. is no longer benched, but with limited minutes, we are seeing glimpses of perhaps why Mike Budenholzer did not afford him playing time until now. With the Atlanta Hawks weathering a period of adversity early in the season, the sooner Tim Hardaway Jr. can get it together, the better.