Atlanta Hawks Tim Hardaway Jr. emerging as quality sixth man

Mar 08, 2017 | by Evan Whitmoyer, isportsweb.com

After trading Kyle Korver to the Cleveland Cavaliers in January, Tim Hardaway Jr. has become the Hawks true sixth man. Hardaway Jr. has not disappointed, as he has played well with increased minutes off the bench. It’s nice to see Hardaway Jr. finally contributing consistently, especially since the Hawks continued to have faith in his development after they traded the 19th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft for him.

With increased minutes, Hardaway Jr. has noticeably better statistics. Prior to the All-Star break, Hardaway Jr. averaged 13.1 points per game on 45% shooting from the field and 35% from three-point range. Since the All-Star break, he has improved those marks to 17.9 points per game, 49% from the field, and 40% from three-point range.

Through four games in February, however, Hardaway has been playing even better with an average of 22.3 points per game. He is shooting an impressive 55% from the field and 42% from three-point range. His averages continue to improve as the season progresses, which will be key since Atlanta has struggled recently as a team. He consistently plays hard, and he often is playing at the end of games when the team needs an important basket.

Hardaway Jr. is in his fourth season in the NBA, and he has improved as a scorer and continues to show his great athleticism. He limits turnovers, which is important when starting point guard Dennis Schroder averages three turnovers per game. He still has room to improve his defense and passing skills, but that will come as he gets more experience in the league.

Though Hardaway Jr. has improved as the season has progressed, Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha continue to start. That may change, however, in the near future.  Sefolosha is in the starting five primarily to be a defensive player, but Hardaway Jr. may start over him before the end of the season or during the playoffs. It depends on what role coach Mike Budenholzer wants for Hardaway Jr., who can be effective off the bench or as a starter.

If I were coach Budenholzer, I would keep Hardaway Jr. as sixth man, but keep him on the floor in late-game situations if he is playing well. The Hawks could use his scoring in the second unit since Dennis Schroder, Paul Millsap, and Dwight Howard provide enough offensive talent in the starting lineup. However, at the end of games, if a bucket is needed, Hardaway Jr. should be inserted to stretch the floor. With his shooting ability and athleticism, it only makes sense to play him at the end of games.

Atlanta has struggled during their current homestand, they need to get back on track in a game against the Brooklyn Nets, the worst team in the NBA. The Hawks have been playing tough opponents like the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers recently, but strength of schedule is not helping the Hawks get a top-four seed in the East.