Tim Hardaway Jr. has all the tools to be a terrific player. He has the body, strong and long, and the pedigree; his father was a five-time NBA All-Star. He also has a beautiful looking shot and the athleticism to finish at the rim and make plays in transition. Those are the traits that make NBA scouts slobber and make college coaches grateful to have. Unfortunately, looking great on paper and in an empty gym doesn’t win games.
Last year, too many times Hardaway did not make a big enough impact to win games. In a sophomore year that was supposed to be one where Hardaway led the team, he did not do that. Sure Michigan won part of the regular season Big Ten Title, but it was freshman Trey Burke who was the main guy, often taking over in the clutch when nobody else, including Hardaway, could. In many of the close games that Michigan won or lost, a majority of the scoring in the last few minutes was by Burke.
Hardaway still had good numbers last season, scoring 14.6 PPG. However, he shot 42% from the field and just 28% from the three-point line.
But in many big games Hardaway did not play well. In eight out of Michigan’s ten losses Hardaway shot under 40% from the field. It is clear: as Hardaway goes so does Michigan. An astounding 187 out of 400 (47%) of Hardaway’s shots were three-point attempts. Hardaway made substantially under one third of his threes had nearly one half of his total shots be threes. That is indefensible, especially when you remember that Michigan had senior sharpshooters Stu Douglass and Zach Novak.
Too often Hardaway would settle for long jumpers instead of attacking the rim. For a player who is 6-6 ft and athletically superior to those guarding him it is silly to not attack the rim as much as possible. Especially for a player who shot just 28% form the three point line, Hardaway should not be settling for threes.
Not to compare Hardway to LeBron James, but this past season James had a ridiculously efficient year. He did that by essentially taking the three-point shot out of his game. He realized that shooting threes bailed out whoever was defending him. Instead, James attacked the defense, creating shots for himself and for his teammates. He was incredible, and won an NBA Title and the MVP trophy. Hey, it cant hurt to be like James, right?
Now, Hardaway is no LeBron James, no one is even close to James right now. But the message is clear. For Hardaway to be successful he must attack the defense, not settle for threes. When you attack the defense good things happen. Last year, Hardaway would often get the ball on the three-point line with a defender on him and shoot a contested three. If he had instead taken the defender off the dribble, as he is capable of doing, he could either get to the rim, create an open shot for a teammate, or get fouled. When you shoot 28% form three-point range, all of those outcomes are better than taking the contested shot.
Michigan coach John Beilein is very smart, and I believe Hardaway is, too. I would be surprised if Beilein has not been telling him the same thing this off-season, if he hasn’t been for a while now.
This season, Hardaway will be a junior on an even more talented Michigan team. He will be an upperclassman leader and must be more accountable. An offense with both Burke and Hardaway attacking the rim will be nearly unstoppable. If Hardaway can change his game and be more aggressive he can score 18 to 20 points a game and create good shots for his teammates. If he does that he will have those NBA scouts drooling for more than just his game on paper, but instead over a dynamic elite college basketball player in real life.