The Atlanta Hawks threw their fans a curveball at Thursday's NBA draft, making two trades that ultimately brought in guard Tim Hardaway Jr. from the New York Knicks and two future second-round picks from the Washington Wizards.
Atlanta first drafted Kansas Jayhawks freshman Kelly Oubre Jr. with its No. 15 overall pick but then sent him to Washington in exchange for the No. 19 pick and the two future second-round selections. Following that, the Hawks had the Wizards draft Notre Dame Fighting Irish star Jerian Grant at No. 19 for them and then sent him to New York for Hardaway.
So was giving up the No. 19 pick for the former Knicks shooting guard worth it for the Hawks?
Some immediately criticized the trade for Atlanta, calling Hardaway a detrimental player. Daily Knicks' Jake Shubert said the following about the 6'6" guard's two years in New York: "He didn’t defend. Or rebound. Or pass. Or shoot with much, if any, caution. He was J.R. Smith with half the talent and none of the fun."
Others disagreed, such as Peachtree Hoops' LoneScribeATL, who had this to say:
The move might not be sexy and, depending on how [Bobby] Portis and [Sam] Dekker and Oubre and everyone else we could’ve drafted, end up developing, it might not even be a good one. But for us. For right now. For the future of the franchise and our winning ways, it's a smart one.
Essentially, each side of the argument has a strong case.
So let's look at the reasons why the trade for Hardaway might not have been smart and then flip the coin to examine the swap more optimistically. At the end, we'll settle on a verdict.
Why Hardaway Wasn't Worth It
Shubert's comments on Hardaway were mostly fair.
The 23-year-old shooting guard has serious holes in his game, most notably on defense. His effort on that end is often nonexistent, as offense is his obvious priority.
Hardaway's stats on the defensive end of the court are grotesque, so you may want to brace yourself for this next part.
The former Michigan standout allowed his opponents to shoot 48.0 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from the three-point line in 2014-15. He also had just 20 steals all season long, which tied him for 13th on the Knicks roster, despite playing 1,681 minutes, the third most on the team.
And here's the kicker: Hardaway's 114 defensive rating was the worst mark of the 20 players who saw court time in New York.
Yes, he somehow found a way to be worse than notorious defensive sieves Carmelo Anthony (110), Andrea Bargnani (113) and Jose Calderon (113).
How will that sort of effort fit in Atlanta, you ask?
Well, the Hawks had six players listed at the wing positions on their 2014-15 roster. Four of them worked their tails off on defense (DeMarre Carroll, Kyle Korver, Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore), while the other two (John Jenkins and Austin Daye) did not.
Guess who got playing time?
Carroll, Korver, Sefolosha and Bazemore combined to average 100 minutes per game. Jenkins and Daye rarely stepped onto the court, even though those players possess the sweet three-point shooting stroke head coach Mike Budenholzer loves.
Hardaway's output on his preferred end of the court isn't exemplary, either. His shot selection is usually poor, he struggles to consistently create his own looks and his passing ability is just average. A lack of progression from his rookie to sophomore year is also concerning.
|Hardaway's Year-to-Year Decline|
And, of course, we have to consider what Atlanta gave up to get Hardaway.
At the No. 19 slot, the Hawks could have taken Bobby Portis, a bruising 6'11", 246-pound power forward whom many thought Atlanta was going to select at its original No. 15 slot. Portis is a strong offensive rebounder (which the Hawks need) and mid-range shooter with a relentless motor—plus, he's three years younger than Hardaway.
Meanwhile, the former Knicks shooting guard is joining a perimeter rotation with four players who all play harder and smarter than he does. That number becomes three if Carroll leaves in free agency, but Hardaway could still be facing an uphill battle to get significant playing time.
Lastly, maturity could be an issue—Hardaway and Knicks star Carmelo Anthony squabbled at times during their two years together, according to ESPN's Chris Broussard.
Coach Bud runs a tight ship and won't tolerate such intrasquad conflicts. Hardaway will need to stay out of trouble with teammates to earn playing time.
Why Hardaway Was Worth It
We've bagged on Hardaway a lot already. But with the right system and mindset, he can be an excellent player.
Knicks rookie head coach Derek Fisher used the triangle offense with his team in 2014-15, and it failed miserably. The squad employed many young players and several guys who had never played together before, and the experiment resulted in a 17-65 record.
Trying to run a system that requires precision, on-court chemistry and talent with a young and talent-starved roster was a kiss of death in the first place. It's no coincidence that Hardaway showed more offensive promise during his rookie year, when former head coach Mike Woodson employed a free-flowing offense that utilized a wider variety of play types.
Just watch the video below, which shows Hardaway's 29 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers in January 2014:
By my unofficial count, 24 of Hardaway's points from that game came in transition or from camping out in the corner on a high pick-and-roll play.
Atlanta played at the 15th-fastest pace in the NBA last season, while New York tied for the 27th-most possessions per game. The Hawks offense also utilizes plenty of high pick-and-roll action, which can spread the floor and get plenty of open corner threes for camped-out shooters. The triangle offense, meanwhile, does not prioritize long-range shots.
What does all this mean? Atlanta is a more hospitable home for Hardaway's athleticism and picturesque shooting stroke than New York was.
Not only are the Hawks a better schematic fit, but the 23-year-old 2-guard will also get cleaner looks playing with the likes of Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Korver, as opposed to Shane Larkin, Jason Smith and Langston Galloway.
To that point, check out the below infographic, which looks at the percentage of Hardaway's jump shots outside of 10 feet last year that were open or wide open, compared to Carroll, Bazemore and Sefolosha.
Notice the homage to the Hawks' new color scheme as well:
Hardaway has a legitimate shot at bumping his 34.2 three-point percentage up to around 40.0 in the Hawks' offensive system.
On the defensive end, the hope is that the former Knicks guard can play harder, knowing he's on a winning team that needs his effort. Hardaway has the physical tools to be a solid stopper, so it's just a matter of maintaining his focus and energy on defense.
And speaking of winning—Atlanta would prefer to do so now instead of later.
If the Hawks had elected to keep their original pick and draft a Portis, an Oubre or a Sam Dekker, who knows how much one of those players would've been able to contribute in his rookie year? Meanwhile, Hardaway is a third-year scorer who should be moving past the learning curve. He can have the experience and confidence to play decent minutes for a contender in 2015-16.
If Carroll leaves, Hardaway becomes especially valuable. He gives the Hawks a fourth viable rotation wing (along with Korver, Sefolosha and Bazemore) and allows Atlanta to focus its attention on beefing up its group of big men during free agency.
Trading for Hardaway, the 24th overall pick in 2013, also saved the Hawks a small piece of cap room for the 2015-16 season.
Additionally, Atlanta has a team option on Hardaway next summer, per Spotrac, and can decline that option if he doesn't pan out.
On the other hand, according to Larry Coon's CBA FAQ, the Hawks would've had to keep their first-round pick for at least two seasons, assuming they didn't trade the player.
Hardaway had a rough final season in New York, but we can't place all the blame on him. The triangle offense was a bad fit for the athletic shooting guard, and he didn't have many talented teammates to take the pressure off him, especially after Anthony's season-ending knee surgery.
So what's the verdict? Was the move to acquire Hardaway worth it?
I'm leaning toward no, but only if Carroll stays in Atlanta. Having Hardaway as a fifth rotation wing would be excessive, considering that the other four have all proved they deserve at least 15 to 20 minutes per game. The former Knicks guard would also want at least that much playing time.
In this scenario, post depth also would've been a more worthy pursuit on draft night. Portis was right there for the taking at both the No. 15 and the No. 19 picks, and he could've provided some rebounding from the bench.
On the other hand, if the Junkyard Dog decides to sign elsewhere, Hardaway provides cheap, necessary depth for a team hoping to contend for a championship. Korver and Sefolosha could pair up in the starting lineup as a solid three-and-D combination, and Hardaway and Bazemore could do the same for the reserves.
The move would be a net positive for a team looking to win now.
For what it's worth, Coach (and now team president) Bud is confident the front office made the right decision. He said the following after the draft, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Chris Vivlamore:
You weigh what your options are and what is in front of you. We felt like adding Tim Hardaway Jr. was what was best for us, a young, 2-guard who has shown an ability to make shots and be an effective player. I think we get him into our development program and around our assistant coaches and players, we think he is going to grow and prosper here.
If Budenholzer is right, the Hawks will once again soar in the Eastern Conference.