The bar has been set high for Tim Hardaway Jr. after the sophomore wing guard carried Michigan to the NCAA Tournament over the final month of the 2010-12 season. After an up and down start to his freshman campaign, Hardaway averaged just shy of 18 points per game with a remarkable 70 percent effective field goal percentage during the final 12 games of last season.
Hardaway transformed from supporting player to star, serving as the catalyst that accelerated Michigan’s growth and carried the Wolverines into the NCAA Tournament. He spent the summer abroad as the third leading scorer for the Team USA U-19 Team at the FIBA World Championships and was named to the preseason watch list for the John Wooden award. Expectations are high because they should be high. For that final 12 game stretch Hardaway was among the best players in the Big Ten and if he can match that sort of production throughout the upcoming season he will carry Michigan on his back.
Reasons to be Excited:
- Three point shooting: A big part of Hardaway’s 70% effective field goal percentage down the stretch was his ability to make three point shots. Near the end of January, he was shooting under 30% from deep. By the end of the season, that number skyrocketed to 37% as Hardaway connected on 44% of deep balls in Big Ten games. His bread and butter move — one dribble right, step-back crossover dribble back left to create just enough space between himself and the defender so he can drop a three in the defender’s face — is nearly impossible to defend when combined with his ability to drive the ball and is one of the prettiest moves in basketball.
- Pick and Roll Efficiency: Hardaway was extremely effective running the pick-and-roll down the stretch. His confidence grew significantly with a play that he rarely ran successfully for the first half of the season. Hardaway is lethal running the pick-and-roll because he’s a triple threat: he can hit the three point shot if the defender goes under the screen, can drop the ball off to the roller if the help defender hedges too hard or take the ball all the way to the basket. With Morris’s departure, expect Hardaway in the pick-and-roll to be the primary set in the Michigan offense early on.
- Flair for the dramatic: As the pressure mounted and Michigan needed wins more than ever, Hardaway’s game elevated. He proved that he has that extra edge that truly elite players posses – he’s not afraid to take big shots and, when he does, more often than not he makes them. At Penn State. Michigan State. Illinois. At Iowa. The examples of Hardaway taking over games are endless and that ability is rare to find in true freshmen.
Room to Grow
- Rebounding: Hardaway’s rebounding numbers were relatively average, especially for a team that very much had a rebound-by-committee approach. Hardaway rebounded 12% of opponents’ missed shots, a number more in line with Michigan’s other guards. With his size and athletic ability, it would be nice to see Hardaway become more aggressive on the defensive glass, perhaps emulating Manny Harris who was a terrific rebounder at the same position.
- Slow Starts & Consistency: Hardaway took some time to adjust and improved as the season went on. That’s to be expected from a freshman but he was still up-and-down over the course of a game. Take last year’s regular season finale against Michigan State for example. Hardaway missed his first four shots in that game and didn’t register a point until the second half, when he scored 20. Clark Kellogg undoubtedly loves his spurtability but Hardaway needs to work toward being more consistent on the offensive end of the floor.
- Leadership: Hardaway wasn’t afraid to show his emotions last year, especially as he improved down the stretch. The question is whether he can turn those emotions into leadership. Stu Douglass and Zack Novak are the captains of this team and will provide the core leadership for the second consecutive season. There’s also something to be said for your best player playing a leadership role. Hardaway needs to be the steadying force this season – demanding the ball when things get out of control, distributing the ball and playing under control.
Tim Hardaway Jr.’s performance down the stretch last year was one of the most impressive in recent Michigan basketball history. He improved nearly every game – a coach’s dream – and not just as a shooter. He consistently got his teammates more involved and played within the offense. With Darius Morris gone, Hardaway Jr.’s ability to see the floor and find an open teammate will be critically important and challenged to a higher degree. Team USA struggled a bit overseas with a disappointing finish in the FIBA World Championships but the experience should only help Hardaway continue to grow as a player, as it has done for several other recent college stars.
Hardaway, more than any other Michigan player, will have to fight the weight of expectations. He finished the season with a 16-game stretch that consisted of very few, if any, bad games. Good play turned into better play and Hardaway rarely faced personal adversity during the final month of the season. It’s unlikely that he can keep up that torrid shooting efficiency (70% effective field goal percentage) over the course of an entire season. He will need to prove that he can play consistent basketball for 30+ games and that a three or four game shooting drought doesn’t turn into a more extended slump.
What is the ceiling for Tim Hardaway Jr.? His numbers should increase across the board as he fills the primary playmaker role. A scoring average over 15 or 16 per game sounds reasonable and an up-tick in assists is likely as well. He probably won’t be able to match his impressive 44 percent three point shooting from conference games last season but he should be able to improve on his sub-50 percent two point shooting numbers to help his overall efficiency. With Morris gone, this is Hardaway’s team on the offensive end of the floor and the Wolverines will go as far as the sophomore guard takes them.