A Recollection of Tim Hardaway Jr’s First Season With The Atlanta Hawks
To understand Tim Hardaway Jr’s 2016-17 breakout season, understanding his tumultuous 2015-16 season is just as important.
On Draft Night 2015, the Atlanta Hawks held the fifteenth pick in the draft. Though they finished the season with the best record in the Eastern Conference, a 2012 trade with the Brooklyn Nets that sent Joe Johnson up north came with the option to swap picks in either 2012 or 2015. The Nets finished with a better record than the Hawks in 2012, but in 2015, the Nets were the 8th seed in the East. With this, the Hawks leaped from the 29th pick to the 15th pick in a solid draft class.
Kelly Oubre Jr. was predicted to be picked somewhere around the Hawks’ pick in 2015. His length (6’7, 7’2 wingspan), and scoring impact made him an intriguing prospect. The Wizards must have also believed this, as they were willing to go out of their way to ensure that Oubre became a Wizard.
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The Wizards lust to obtain Oubre for him to become the relief scorer alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal ended up with the Hawks making a surprising move on draft night. In what was basically a three-team deal, the Hawks sent off Oubre, who they picked at Washington’s request. In exchange, the Wizards sent over their 19th overall pick and two future second-round picks in 2016 and 2019. Later in the night, the Hawks selected Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant. He never played for the Hawks. The Knicks made the trade for Grant, and in exchange, sent second-year guard Tim Hardaway Jr. to the Hawks.
As Mike Budenholzer met with media during the draft, he stated, “The ability to acquire a player who has established himself in the league after two years as somebody who can help a team, help us, and acquiring a couple of second round picks as assets as we continue to build and create flexibility in the future and opportunities in the future was a very good night for us.
“You weigh what your options are and what’s in front of you. We felt like adding Tim Hardaway Jr was what was best for us.”
Hardaway was not expected to make an extreme impact during the 2015-16 season. For him, the year was more intended to be a development year, to learn the system. This became evident as Hardaway was either inactive or did not play in the team’s first 15 games. Kent Bazemore suffered a sprained right ankle, and Hardaway played in his first game as a Hawk on November 24th, 2015. Over the next 4 games, Hardaway scored 10 points in 44 total minutes. He then did not suit up with the Hawks for the next 15 consecutive contests.
While Hardaway was not actively playing in the NBA, the Hawks did decide to send him down to the D-League to test his skills. In two games with the Canton Charge, Hardaway averaged 17.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game.
Later in the month, Hardaway was assigned to the Austin Spurs, where he continued to show the talent he possessed. His 20 point per game average over three games seemed to be all the Hawks’ coaching staff needed to believe in him. from January 3rd, 2016 until the end of the season, Hardaway played in every game.
His first start as a Hawk came on March 17th, 2016, just one day after his 24th birthday. He proceeded to put 21 points on the Denver Nuggets’ heads, shooting an efficient 6-for-11 from the field, including a 2-for-4 performance from behind the arc. He also dished out 4 assists and grabbed 7 rebounds in a 17-point win for the Hawks. Over the next 3 games, he averaged 17 points per game and basically mirrored what we see on a nightly basis from him this season.
Hardaway finished the season averaging almost 17 minutes per game, which placed him 8th on the team. Fans were not given just enough to assume his play this season. Though, they were given optimism that he could eventually be a key cog in the Hawks’ system.
In the playoffs, Hardaway Jr.’s role was diminished. He averaged under 10 minutes in the six-game Boston Celtics series, including a nondescript four second run in Game 4. His role in the Cavaliers series was nonexistent, as he only played big minutes in a Game 3 blowout loss.
If one was to say that Hardaway out-dueling James Harden in Houston would be in his future based on last season’s performance, they would be considered nothing short of crazy. Fast forward to 2017, and the idea is still wild, but true. Did you expect THJ to be as good as he has been this season?