Atlanta Hawks: A Change Of Scenery Should Benefit Hardaway Jr.


Sometimes going to work can be a drag. You pass by the same faces, go through the same old routine, and after a while the monotony can drive you crazy, especially if your job performance is less than stellar. At that point sometimes a change of scenery is the only thing that can rescue you from the doldrums and get you back on course.

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That’s what the Atlanta Hawks are counting on with recently acquired shooting guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. The Hawks shocked many by trading away their first round pick (the draft rights to Jerian Grant) for the struggling Hardaway, Jr. The deal was criticized throughout the industry due to the feeling that he is a poor fit for an offense built around ball-movement and spacing. Those criticisms are fair on the surface.

Throughout his two year career with the Knicks, Hardaway, Jr. has not been a willing passer, not developed into a capable defender, and his stats regressed during his sophomore season. After a promising rookie campaign in which he shot 42.8 percent from the floor and 36.3 percent from outside, Hardaway, Jr. shot a dismal 38.9 percent from the floor and a below league average 34.2 percent from three-point range last season. He has a reputation as a ball-stopper and was seemingly on the trading block for his entire tenure with the Knicks. Defensively the story has been even worse.

According to ESPN his defensive real plus/minus last season was at a chilly -3.39. Making him the 90th ranked shooting guard in the NBA. That’s rough. When he was on the court last season New York’s opponents raised their offensive rating from 109 to 111.7. The Knicks were already a poor defensive team last season, but Hardaway, Jr. made them even worse.

That startling lack of development is not what you would hope to see from a first round draft pick in their second season. All that being said, do not discount the effect that entering a different basketball culture can have on a player. Whereas the Knicks were a bubbling mess of outdated ideas, bloated contracts, and losing. The Hawks are the exact opposite. They are a progressive organization built on Mike Budenholzer’s culture of sharing and winning. Playing without effort on defense, failing to make the right pass, and things alike will not be tolerated in Atlanta.

The Knicks were doing everything they could not to lose by thirty points every night. In an environment like that it’s easy to see how bad habits might creep in. When you’re competing with LeBron James for a trip to the NBA Finals all that matters is doing what you can to help your team win. To say the situations are different would be the understatement of the century.

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  • All he has to do to be successful is fit in. That means playing with more effort on defense, making the extra pass, and knocking down open three-pointers. The shooting part of this plan should not be an issue (his career three-point percentage is still near league average at 35.3 percent), but it may take some time to adjust to his new responsibilities. With Kyle Korver and likely Thabo Sefolosha starting on the wing Hardaway, Jr. will not be thrust into a role that he cannot handle. A 20 minute per night bench role is perfect for a player coming into a new system that he may not have a firm handle on just yet.

    Though criticism of the deal has been the most popular judgment I’m going to look for the positives. Hardaway, Jr. has proven to be a decent three-point shooter over his career so why couldn’t a team that heavily relies on the three-point shot use him off the bench? The fit is better than most think and too many experts are forgetting how important a change in culture can be for a young player. It’s easy to forget that he is only 22 years old. There is still time for him to develop and change who he is as an NBA player.

    If Hardaway, Jr. had ended up in San Antonio I expect the praise would be significant and the consensus would be that Popovich is the perfect coach to get the most out of an underperforming young player. Budenholzer and the Hawks may not have earned that distinction yet, but they are trending in that direction.

    Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side. Volt green in this case.

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