The Hawks were presented with a unique opportunity despite finishing first in the Eastern Conference. Because of the 2012 trade in which the Nets acquired Joe Johnson from the Hawks, Atlanta had the opportunity to swap draft picks with Brooklyn in the 2015 draft. The Hawks obviously opted to take the Nets #16 overall pick, which gave them the immediate opportunity to add nice young talent to an already terrific core group of players. These opportunities do not come around often and that’s why when the Hawks opted to trade the pick for Tim Hardaway Jr., many NBA fans were skeptical. Knicks fans believe they had just pulled the ultimate robbery, while Hawks fans were left scratching their head. What could the erratic former first-round pick bring to what has proved to be a selfless Hawks squad?
While most Atlanta fans thought, “Oh, here we go again. Atlanta is wasting another golden opportunity.” I was quite pleased with the trade. While I liked guys like Bobby Portis and Sam Dekker, there were no sure things in the 2015 draft class outside of the top 1o, and Atlanta looked to be just a piece away from being a real championship team. While Hardaway was no superstar, he could bring scoring in bunches off the bench, which is something Atlanta really lacked in the playoffs last season. Hardaway is a seasoned player for someone who is only 23 years of age. His decision making may have been questionable in New York, but Hardaway did do one thing very well: shoot the rock. Hardaway shot over 35% from behind the arc, and considering a lot of those three-pointers were not exactly great shots, we should expect to see that percentage rise with the move to Atlanta. The Hawks where second in three-point percentage in the 2014-2015 season and fifth in three-pointers made.
My optimism did not last long. I knew it would take Hardaway Jr. some time to gel with his new team in a complicated system, but I at least expected him to get some minutes off the bench. Hardaway spent the majority of the first half of the season in the D-league. He rarely even spent much time dressed out in a Hawks uniform let alone play in one. I found myself spending my time looking up players we could have had instead of Hardaway. I confess, I had become a doubter.
However, in the new year Hardaway finally got his chance. On January 5th, he was playing in just the fifth game with the Hawks, but this time he never looked back. He has played in every game since and has started to really make his presence felt in Atlanta. With every game his confidence in his teammates, the system and his own game has grown. On March 17th Hardaway got his first start for the Hawks due to a Kent Bazemore injury. He showed his full potential and racked up 21 points and grabbed 7 rebounds. He followed that up with another 20-point performance against the Rockets off the bench. The former Knick is averaging 17.8 points per game on close to 60 percent shooting in his last four games. He has been lights out from behind the arc, shooting over 50% in those games, and has become a real bright spot off the bench.
The sample size is still way too small to say the Hawks won this trade, but I really like what I am seeing out of Hardaway. He seems very in control and more comfortable every single game. He is a lights out three-point shooter and could have a very bright future in years to come. Kyle Korver cannot start forever, and Hardaway is still very young. If he can continue to improve, there is no reason he cannot potentially start for Atlanta in years to come.