Tim Hardaway Jr. came in to his junior season with a more aggressive attitude on the floor for Michigan. And boy, did it work. Hardaway has helped push Michigan out to a 21-2 start (coming in to Saturday) and has been a huge part in solidifying them as a national title favorite with many.
Hardaway has done that by setting career highs in scoring (16 ppg), FG% (48.4), 3P% (43.1), MPG(34.3), APG (2.4) and RPG (4.7). This is by far his best season yet at Michigan, especially after his brutal sophomore season. Last season, Hardaway shot just over 28% on three pointers, a horrendous statistic. That 43% on threes is higher than his field goal percentage last year (41%). Hardaway has had as impressive of a season as possible, taking home the MVP of the NIT Tip-Off, and two Big Ten Player of the Week awards. He is even on pace to be on an All Big Ten team at the end of the season as he has cemented himself as one of the most prolific scoring guards in the conference.
This has all done wonders for Hardaway’s NBA Draft status,as he has flown up the rankings on many sites in the recent months. He is anywhere from a mid to late first round pick, to a mid second round pick, depending on which mock draft you look at. The big knock on Hardaway is whether or not his limitations will allow him to get much better. Does he have high potential?
The answer is probably a no. Hardaway has become a much better player, don’t get me wrong, but he still has enough holes in his game to keep him from being a high draft pick.
Let’s start with the athleticism. Hardaway is not an overly impressive athlete. In the Big Ten, he is more than adequate athletically, but in the NBA he will be at a whole new level. This lack of high level athleticism often shows when Hardaway is in transition. He has hesitated to go attack bigger stronger defenders at the rim, instead passing the ball and ending the fastbreak. He does not have good enough quickness or leaping ability to finish all the time.
Much of Hardaway’s success has come from catch and shoot jumpers, or driving after the defense collapsed and he has an open path. Hardaway can make plays, but he is not a playmaker. He can’t beat superior defenders off the dribble to get to the rim on a consistent basis. That is partially due to his lack of quickness, but also his mediocre ball-handling skills. Many times this season, when a desperate opposition has gone to a full court press defense against Michigan, Hardaway has been a weakness when he gets the ball. He is not a good ball handler, partly due to his lack of quickness but also due to his lack of awareness at times. Hardaway likes to take high dribbles, while in traffic. That is an easy way to get the ball stolen. When Trey Burke comes out of the game, or lets Hardaway bring the ball up the floor it will usually end up with something ugly or him being forced to pass the ball right away, without making anything productive happen.
So, Hardaway does not have elite quickness and athleticism (a major reason he was not highly recruited. Miami did not think he could play in the ACC), or good ball handling skills, but Hardaway does make up for that with his scoring ability and improved three point shooting. Hardaway has shown that he can improve his skills tremendously, but physical limitations are not going to change. He makes the most of what he has, and has become one of the best players in the country. What his NBA potential is, I don’t know. My best guess would be that Hardaway can be a solid scorer off of the bench. He just has a knack for getting himself good shots and his defense, while not great, has improved. It is very likely that Hardaway enters the draft in June and the longer he plays at as high of a level as he has this season, the higher his draft stock will rise.