Tim Hardaway Jr. had a fantastic game against Kansas State Friday, helping Michigan to the NIT Season Tipoff title, and a Most Outstanding Player award for the tournament. Hardaway looked confident, and could not miss, on his way to a 23 point, 7 rebound performance. Hardaway has truly looked like a different player from last season. It begs the question, is Hardaway the Wolverines’ best player?
The obvious answer to this would be no, Trey Burke is. Burke is an All-American, and an immensely talented player. Last season, as a freshman, he was clearly better than Hardaway. However, through the first five games Burke has not looked himself. As a point guard he is not creating offense for his teammates as well as he should. He has tried to force things himself, taking bad shots. Too many possessions have been Burke dribbling for most of the shot clock, then hoisting up a deep three. He still is averaging almost 7 assists a game, but has not been consistent. Don’t get me wrong, Burke is still a terrific player. He is a game changer, like Hardaway. Also, it has been just five games, a small sample size, so things could change. From what we have seen, though, Hardaway has looked better than Burke.
What is Hardaway doing now better than he did last season?
The main thing is that Hardaway looks much more confident. At times last season he looked timid on both sides of the ball. He would force bad shots and disappear at big moments. He had all of the physical tools, he just was not utilizing them. Now, he looks confident and aggressive on the floor. When he gets the ball he is looking to attack. Instead of shooting a contested three he is attacking the defender, making himself be the aggressor. This has opened up a lot of short to mid range jump shots for Hardaway. He has been knocking those down consistently. Also, when he does take longer jumpers he looks more confident in them. He is jumping in to his shots. This has all led to a 48% three point shooting rate and 61% from the field.
Burke himself stated, “With Tim being as aggressive and as good as he was (Friday), it opens the offense up, it’s something that we have to continue to work on with him.”
The offense as a whole seems better suited to Hardaway’s skills this year. An offense that has been predicated on three point shooting has changed to an emphasis on attacking the rim. The team is shooting nearly five fewer threes per game. This year just 32% of Michigan’s shot attempts are three pointers, opposed to a whopping 44% last year. This all suits Hardaway’s ability to attack the rim. There is less pressure to shoot threes. The threes they do shoot now are largely created by penetration, instead of forced threes. The combination of Hardaway and true freshman sensation Glenn Robinson III have created a due of big, strong and athletic wings. The two of them, as well as Burke, open up the defense for each other, allowing easier shots.
Once again, it has only been five games. Through these five games, though, Hardaway has looked terrific. He tore up Madison Square Garden Thanksgiving weekend, and now has another challenge against NC State, Tuesday. His great play appears to be sustainable, as it is largely due to a new mindset. Hardaway has always been very gifted, now he is utilizing his talent and playing at a very high level. Whether or not he is better than Burke matters less than if they can lead this talented Michigan team to success. As of now, they are perfect and rolling.