In what is shaping up to be a shallow NBA draft pool this season, Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr. made sure his stock rose following a game against the rival Ohio State Buckeyes. In the Wolverines' 76-74 overtime victory on February 5, he sank six three-pointers and finished the game with 23 points.
Say what you want about Indiana's Cody Zeller, UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad and even Kentucky's Nerlens Noel, all of whom are sure to be lottery picks later this year. Those players are not bad by any means, but it's time to start including Hardaway Jr. in the same group.
Granted, Hardaway Jr. is not as well-rounded a player as any of those men. He does not have much size at 6'6", 205 pounds, and is not a strong defender. When push comes to shove, he's a scorer.
That still does not take away from the impressiveness of his performance against Ohio State. It may have been a one-sided game to some, but the man showed great catch-and-shoot abilities. More important is that he was making his shots—both the open ones and the tougher ones.
This is just the nature of Hardaway Jr. The son of former NBA All-Star Tim Hardaway, he has a great basketball IQ and is committed to becoming a better player in each and every game.
His commitment has been exceptionally notable this season. After making just 42 percent of his shots from the field his sophomore year, Hardaway Jr. has upped his field goal percentage to 48 percent this season, learning to mix and match his jumper and his interior offense.
He has also improved his long range game, making 43 percent of his threes after making just 28 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc last season.
Hardaway Jr.'s three-point game was definitely the star of his performance against Ohio State, but that is not a bad thing. It showed that, in an important game, he is willing to take what could be clutch shots and not rely solely on driving the lane to draw a foul. So long as he continues to learn that balance, he'll find himself in a position to have a long and prolific NBA career.
That isn't to say that Tim Hardaway Jr. should be a lock for a lottery pick. I know I said that he should be in the same league as guys like Zeller and Muhammad, but to say that he should be picked ahead of or even shortly after them is a bit much.
Rather, Hardaway Jr. should be taken in the middle of the first round, maybe on the lottery bubble. He isn't going to attract as much press as some of his fellow draft class members, but his determination on the court is his way of saying, "I'm a solid player too. Do not pass me over."
Once the Big Ten Tournament is underway, and this year's NCAA Tournament follows, it's going to be interesting to see if Hardaway Jr. can make his draft stock rise even more.