Report Cards are back and a month late is better than never. We’ll start with the NBA Draft prospects and work our way through.
When Tim Hardaway Jr. committed to Michigan, he was a 6-foot-4, rail-thin 3-star prospect whose skills were limited mostly to outside shooting. As his body and his skill set developed at Michigan, so did his role.
He carried Michigan to the NCAA tournament in his freshman season, supplementing Darius Morris’s passing with a torrid 3-point shooting streak to close the season. His sophomore year brought the challenge of deciphering his role alongside another new, supremely talented back-court mate, Trey Burke. While his sophomore year was a step back, his final season was clearly two steps forward. Hardaway improved across-the-board and expanded his game to include rebounding and ball-handling duties, as well as an augmented defensive role. His new versatility allowed him to finally feel secure in his role alongside Burke, who blossomed into the best player in the country.
While Hardaway improved steadily during his time at Michigan, game-to-game consistency was always a struggle. This rule held true this past season — there were times Hardaway appeared utterly unstoppable, and times when he seemed to force matters. Especially during the later portion of the season, it felt as though Hardaway attempted to put the team on his back at times, often with disappointing results (see: Final Four). But while his career-long lack of consistency persisted into this past season, Hardaway’s disposition and effort was never questioned and he won Michigan a lot of games (at times almost by himself). His scoring may have been up-and-down, but Hardaway limited the “disappearances” that plagued his first two seasons in Ann Arbor.
- 3-point shooting: One of the major mysteries of Hardaway’s sophomore slump was what had happened to his 3-point shot. The Miami native shot well from beyond the arc as a freshman – especially down the stretch. But as a sophomore, Hardaway hit just 28 percent of his threes. This season, however, Hardaway’s shooting numbers were back to normal, as Michigan’s off-guard hit 37 percent of his tries from beyond the arc, the best of his career. Hardaway attempted fewer threes as a junior – 42% of his FGAs were from long range compared to 47% and 55% in his first two seasons – and was far more effective.
- Versatility: This one is tough. Anyone that watched Michigan play would agree that Hardaway was a more versatile player as a junior. He moved to the more demanding 2-guard position in Michigan’s offense. He handled the ball more, he attacked the basket more and he was a better defensive rebounder than ever before. But at first glance the numbers don’t really back that up. Hardaway attempted marginally more twos but his 2PFG% dropped. A look at Hardaway’s 2-point shooting shows constant regression throughout the year.
Despite the regression in 2-point shooting, Hardaway was still more aggressive. Here’s a look at the Synergy Sports data for the biggest play-type shifts (positive and negative) in Hardaway’s game. More transition, isolation and spot ups with fewer shots off screens.
- Transition Offense: The biggest shift in Hardaway’s game lies in the first column of the last graph: transition offense. Hardaway was able to find significantly more opportunities in transition with 19.5% of his offensive plays coming in transition compared to 14.8% as a sophomore. And he made them count. Hardaway scored 1.37 points per transition opportunity compared to just 1.18 points per transition attempt as a sophomore.
- Disposition: There’s no denying it: there have been times throughout Hardaway’s impressive career when the guard’s attitude left something to be desired. It wasn’t so much that Hardaway had a bad attitude, it was that he struggled to deal with adversity. He would miss two, three, or four shots and would grow frustrated and fall out of his game. Hardaway displayed consistent effort night-in and night-out during his junior season, perhaps as a result of finally feeling comfortable in his role alongside Trey Burke. When he wasn’t hitting shots, Hardaway made sure to affect the game in other ways rather than sulk, and he almost always left his distinct fingerprint on games as a result.
Room for improvement
- Consistency: Hardaway has been a remarkably streaky shooter throughout his career at Michigan. Capable of going off from beyond the arc at any time, Hardaway has also been capable of shooting himself entirely out of a game. Evidence for this streakiness abounds from looking at per-game statistics from this past year: over eight early-season games, Hardaway goes 9-for-36 from 3-point land only to hit four of eight against West Virginia and eight of his next 14 triple attempts; in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, Hardaway hits eight of 12 3-pointers, but goes 5-for-33 from beyond the arc the rest of the way. Developing a consistent shooting touch will be key if Hardaway wants to carve out a niche for himself at the next level.
- Defense: Hardaway certainly talked about playing better defense as a junior – and John Beilein backed him up. There’s no doubt that Hardaway put more effort in on the defensive end. I would bet he took more charges last year than his first two seasons combined. However, he was still plagued by defensive lapses enough to call defense a weakness. The tools were there and Hardaway put them to better use but the focus wasn’t always.
- Shot selection: While Hardaway’s 3-point shooting percentage was up from last year, his two-point shooting percentage was down, from 54 percent last season to 48 percent this season. That doesn’t say a whole lot, especially considering that he took a few more twos than he did last season. But it’s worth noting when talking about Hardaway’s shot selection. Hardaway had a tendency, especially in the NCAA tournament, to take frustration shots. I don’t think these shots were borne of selfishness — I think Hardaway simply had a tendency to take dumb shots when he wasn’t getting the opportunities he wanted.
Hardaway improved in every area from last season, and was absolutely critical to Michigan’s most successful team in two decades. For the most part, Hardaway played within his role and was a great leader for a young Wolverines squad.
Bottom Line: Tim Hardaway Jr. has had one of the most successful careers of any Michigan basketball player in the Beilein era. He came in as a relatively unheralded freshman and worked his way toward becoming a first-team All-Big Ten player who will likely find himself playing in the NBA next year. He was one of the hardest workers on the team and set an excellent example from young players with his legendary preparation and diligence.
There are flaws to Hardaway’s game, but on the whole his career at Michigan was an unmitigated success. He was at times frustrating to follow because of his streakiness, and there were times as he was growing into his role that he seemed to let the pressure get to him emotionally. But we got to watch Hardaway for three years work his way into the player he is now: a versatile, tough, smart player who will do whatever his team needs him to do to win. Other than his backcourt mate, the National Player of the Year, there are few players over the last decade that won more games by putting Michigan on their back than Hardaway managed to do – a feat even more impressive considering who he shared the ball with.