Tim Hardaway Jr.’s career defined by highs and lows

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan 71, South Dakota State 56 - 2
Bryan Fuller

It’s usually easy to draw conclusions about a player’s career when they move on. Zack Novak will always be remembered for his leadership. Trey Burke will be remembered for perfecting the point guard position as a sophomore. But it’s tough to decipher how Tim Hardaway Jr. should be remembered after his three year career in Ann Arbor. It’s tough because perception of Hardaway changed with each passing moment as his performance varied wildly over three seasons.

Looking at the big picture, Hardaway had an extremely impressive career. It was his offensive explosion in February and March of 2011 that carried Michigan to the NCAA tournament during his freshman season. Hardaway started every game (other than missing this year’s CMU game with an injury) in three years and the Wolverines made the NCAA tournament every season. He averaged 13.9 points or better each year and was a critical player on Michigan’s first Big Ten Championship and first Final Four teams in decades. Tim Hardaway Jr. is an undeniably critical piece of Michigan’s resurgence.

Despite all of that, there’s still an essence of disappointment or at least a wandering thought about what could have been as Tim Hardaway Jr.’s career comes to a close. The wavering stems from the 6-foot-6 forward’s inability to discover consistency over his career.

Hardaway was dominant when he was on. He won handfuls of game almost single handily during his three seasons. But his inconsistency was painfully evident, both on a yearly and nightly basis. He found his stride as a freshman only to regress into a yearlong slump as a sophomore. As a junior, Hardaway was as likely to dominate a game as he was to disappear completely.

Hardaway’s inconsistency is painfully evident in this chart of his shooting statistics throughout his 107 game career. The chart shows a 4-game moving average of his effective field goal and three point shooting numbers. His career averages are also designated.


The first two years illustrate his late rise in his freshman season and his poor sophomore season. The final third of the graph shows a strikingly inconsistent junior season quite clearly. No shooter is perfectly consistent but Hardaway’s streakiness was both his strongest asset and his biggest weakness.

Despite the inconsistency, Tim had his moments. He strung together a ridiculous stretch of play as a freshman to carry Michigan to the NCAA tournament – including this shot which punched Michigan’s bid – that featured seemingly endless scoring bursts like this.

As badly as he played at the Breslin Center over his career, he left Michigan with a winning record (4-2) against Michigan State. During his freshman season, he beat the Spartans almost by himself with a massive second half performance.

He put together a special performance against Michigan’s rival to the south as a junior, keeping the Wolverines alive against the Buckeyes and allowing them to prevail in overtime.

He scored 20 points or more in 19 of his 107 games and the Wolverines were 17-2 in those contests. He was also critical in helping Michigan out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament with timely shooting against VCU and South Dakota State.

The frustration is inevitable but the end product is undeniable. Tim Hardaway Jr. had a successful career in a Michigan jersey.

Many will argue that he made the wrong decision to turn pro – and we won’t have a good answer to that question for quite some time – as he’s not projected as a first round pick by most scouts and analysts. Truth be told, I have a hard time arguing with the decision.

Hardaway improved almost every aspect of his game over last year. His ball handling, shooting and rebounding were all better than a year ago and Michigan reached the national championship game. He’s still not regarded as a top pick and that’s unlikely to change with another year at Michigan.

Hardaway’s options this spring were. 1) return to school and manage to string together another 30+ games of consistent and improved basketball. 2) head to NBA draft camps and string together a month of hot shooting and good workouts and rise up the draft board. Given his track record, option two is a lot more likely to yield results.

Seniors aren’t “stock risers” in the mind of NBA scouts, they are second round picks. Barring perfection or a late emergence, there’s little to gain from a senior year. Four college seniors were picked in the first round last year, none better than 17th. Seventeen went in the second round. Three seniors are projected in the first round this year by Draft Express with 13 in the second round.

Tim Hardaway Jr. won a lot of games in a Michigan uniform. He’s also never going to have a better shot to chase his NBA dream. For that, who can blame him for making the jump?

  • Adam

    I appreciate everything Tim brought his three years in Ann Arbor. He brought us to the tourney all three years he was here, helped to put Michigan basketball back on the map, and represented Michigan as well as you can ask for.

    But for some reason, I feel like Michigan could be a better team without him this year. After the first two games of the tourney this year, I’d unfortunately have to say that we won despite him and his off shooting was one of the reasons we lost in the championship game. He forced way too many shots that game and when he doesn’t have it, he really doesn’t have it. Without Trey running the point, I feel like Hardaway would have tried to do way too much next year.

    • EchoWhiskey

      I feel like this line of thinking ignores his other contributions offensively and defensively. He shot poorly, yes, but I think it’s been detailed elsewhere that he contributed in assists, rebounding and usually drawing the toughest defensive assignment. He was also a leader on the court.

      Say there was no Hardaway this year. Who plays in his place? Lavert? Vogrich? You’re telling me we would have been better off with those guys playing starters minutes? Your statement sounds ridiculous if you think about it for more than one second.

      • Adam

        I think it really depends if Robinson and McGary come back. If they both enter the draft, obviously having Hardaway would be huge. But I don’t mind a starting linup of Walton/Albrecht-Irvin-Stauskas-Robinson-McGary with more shots taken in the flow of the offense. I’m probably being a little harsh on Hardaway from a college player standpoint, but I feel like not having him take 50% of the shots will make the rest of this young team better in the long term. When he is on, he can carry a team on his back. However, that happened way too few times this year. His defense and rebounding are replaceable really.

  • Mattski

    Appreciate this. I’m curious–does a career 50% overall and 34% 3-point shooter
    look good to the NBA, coming out of the Big Ten? Average? Above average? I’ll go to my grave thinking that Hardaway got too little love from Michigan fans.

    • robpollard

      I don’t know about the Big 10, but I just looked up some SG’s like Ben McLemore (who will be a Top 3 pick) and his eFG% was 59%. Oladipo (a lottery pick) is 57%. Allen Crabbe from Cal (who’s another junior SG projected to go in the mid-2nd round) has a 53% rate, which is the same with CJ Wilcox, a junior from Washington.

      So I think THJ will look to the NBA how he looks to most Michigan fans – a streaky shooter who overall is not notably good at jump shots besides stationary shooting.

      Doesn’t mean he’s an average college player – he’s all-B1G (though not 1st team at all, IMHO) and was huge for UM in some key wins. He’s just not ready for the NBA. Perhaps he’ll never be, so if he wants to try and get his career started, he might as well leave early – but he definitely isn’t ready now. There are plenty of players at his position coming out who are better than him.

    • ChathaM

      I think he got far too little love from a significant portion of the fan base. From talking with friends who are UM followers, and from some of the comments I’ve heard in the seats at Crisler, I believe a lot of fans expected Hardaway to be perfect, and were blind to his game’s shortcomings. The fact that he improved significantly on those shortcomings through the years didn’t change the expectations of some that he be the perfect player. Maybe some of that expectation stems from his solid, promising freshman season, after which some expected him to grow into a superstar. I don’t know. Some players simply become the target of fans’ venom over time. For many fans, I believe Hardaway was that player. It isn’t fair, but it happens.

      Personally, I think Hardaway had a great career at UM, and that his decision to leave early was a good one.

  • Patrick

    I think Timmy is making the right decision. One that many juniors make. They have maxed our there draft grade and there isn’t much left to improve on in the college game. Unfortunately for Timmy his ceiling is a fringe first rounder at best most likely a middle second. I thank him for his memories and his tenacity on the court. I’m going to miss yelling about his heat check threes, his ferocious dunks, and “angry Timmy.” Thank you for every thing 10, you will be miss

    • Gordon

      I agree. This year he was half of what announcers loved to call “the best back court in the country.” Next year he would have been fighting for minutes with a five-star freshman. I can’t imagine his draft stock improving in that situation.

  • He only scored more than 20 pts in 19 games? Wow…

    • Just under once every five games. Doesn’t seem like an awful ratio.

  • PolSci

    Let’s not forget one of the best hype videos after his freshmen year, made right here on UMHoops. It’s still up on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctP1cMvWo7E

  • EchoWhiskey

    Among other things, I’ll miss his dunks. Even though he did it often enough that I shouldn’t have been surprised, the thunder jams always seemed to come out of nowhere.

  • MGoTweeter

    I think you could make an argument that a lot of Tim’s inconsistency stemmed from the presence of ball dominant point guards. Hardaway was cast into a role of primarily being a spot up shooter. He was a pretty good shooter, but like any shooter, when you rely heavily on jump shots, you are going to be inconsistent in the scoring column (just ask Stauskas).

    For much of his career at Michigan, the offense was at it’s best when the ball was in the hands of either Morris or Burke. This often meant that other players were limited in their offensive involvement. Their were several moments where we saw the offense directly flow through Hardaway. Late in his freshman year when the coaches discovered the success of the TH Jr. wing pick and roll and early this past season when Michigan dominated some teams with the inside curls from the wing. However, the majority of time Michigan reverted to it’s point guards to create offense.

    The other factor that maybe worked against Hardaway being a consistent scorer, was Michigan’s stress on low turnover numbers. Or conversely Hardaway’s inability to control his dribble. There were many times that Michigan fans wanted to see Hardaway force his way to the basket, but most of the time it just was not an option because of the turnovers. In a more reckless offense, Hardaway may have been a much bigger scorer but the offense would also be less efficient.

    The bottom line is that the guy played as hard as anyone Michigan had, especially this season. He never became a great defender, but you could tell he worked his tail off this offseason to improve at that end for this year. A lot of the shots he took, he had to take. He was the second best option Michigan had and I can’t fault him for missing some shots.

  • Indiana_Matt

    He was a great player. His intensity and effort never wavered (and that might have hurt him actually, thinking too much/being too hard on himself). Was all-conference in some capacity all three years (honorable mention as a freshman). Just had to take the lows with the highs with him. Will really miss him and wish him the best.

    Even if he doesn’t get a lot of NBA PT but then can string together a successful career in Europe, how could anyone call that failure. A lot of people make really good livings playing basketball outside the NBA. Worst case scenario still seems pretty darn good.

  • Fab 5 Legends

    curious when GR3 and Mitch will make their decision?? I guess by next week…im assuming…

  • Northern Blue

    Timmy was as entertaining as they come when he was “on”. I’ll always remember the OSU game and the second half vs MSU. Hopefully, the young guys coming in next season in the backcourt will give Michigan as much excitement and success as the backcourt we’ve had this last season. Good Luck Tim… would be a great fit for Chicago at the end of the first round.

    On a side note, I’d love to see Tim Sr. show up to some games wearing that Michigan cap some random times in the future… Going to miss that. Hopefully it will be possible for Trey and Tim to come back when the banners are raised next year. Those two deserve a good farewell at Crisler.

  • Kevin

    While he was inconsistent, it’s hard to ignore the contributions he made to the program. Let me ask this: If his freshman year and sophomore year were reversed, would we think he was so inconsistent? After his spectacular end to his freshman year, he had sky-high expectations for his sophomore season (preseason all american of some nature, if i recall). He had a rough sophomore year, but still played a vital role in winning a B1G title. If you take those seasons and flip them, we don’t make the tournament his freshman year, but his career is looked at as being “better”. Make no mistake about it, he had an excellent Michigan career and played a dominant role in bringing michigan “back”. Other than Trey, who else has been more influential to our program over the last 20 years?

    • Mattski

      Apropos of this, he should also be looked on with Douglass and Novak as one of the largely unheralded players who helped Beilein restore Michigan to prominence. Yes, he did not reach Trey’s stratospheric heights and had his shooting slumps, but he far surpassed expectations.

    • Northern Blue

      Well Said. Another thing that’s fun to remember is that Tim always wanted to be here, even when we were recruiting players like Ziegler harder than him. I remember the fan base really wanted Ziegler and thought that he could be the number 1 option on Michigan based on his high recruiting ranking. Tim had a big performance at Michigan camp and earned his scholarship, and Ziegler doesn’t look like he will even sniff the NBA. Good on ya Timmy! As a fan I appreciate his efforts, and I think we kind of got spoiled with Trey and don’t fully appreciate Tim. Great 2nd banana for 3 years and he improved his overall floor game, especially in his third year with improved passing, rebounding, ball handling, defence, and most importantly his mental game. Pretty bittersweet times to be a fan with two great ones leaving. Still hoping the freshmen will stay, because they will do great things next year if they do. Go Blue!