I won’t sugarcoat this: last season, Tim Hardaway Jr. was arguably the worst volume shooter in the NBA. He heaved a whopping 7.2 threes per game, connecting on a measly 31.7% of them. For perspective, 59 players launched at least 350 triples last season, Hardaway ranked dead last in three-point field goal percentage among that group. His season-long swoon included a 10-game stretch during which he shot 10-of-60 (16.7%) from behind the arc. Granted, that was not long after a stress injury to his lower left leg forced him to miss about two dozen games. Per BBall Index’s talent grades, THJ fared how you would expect. On the left is how he rated against the league overall. On the right, is how he compared to shooting guards who played similar minutes:

It wasn’t exactly encouraging to see such high-volume ineptitude in the first year of his 4-yr/$71M deal, but year two has started on a different note. The two areas that jump out from his report card above are perimeter shooting and playmaking. And, it’s not just because they are his two worst categories. It’s because those are two areas in which, eight games into the season, Hardaway has looked very strong.

Through eight games, Hardaway is shooting 41.1% on just over nine three-point attempts per game and averaging a career-high 3.3 assists per game.

So, what changed?

I dug into the numbers and, at first, didn’t love what I saw. To start, his shot diet looks worse on the surface. Last year, he took a greater percentage of his shots on open and wide open threes (per NBA.com’s definitions). Last season, 41.9% of his total field goal attempts were from open and wide open threes. This year, that number is down to 37.7%. Even more surprising, Hardaway has taken a smaller ratio of catch-and-shoot attempts, transferring them over to the more difficult off-the-dribble variety. Granted, he’s been absolutely unconscious on pull-ups, hitting an absurd 60% eFG. So far this season, 61 players have taken at least 30 pull-ups. Timmy’s eFG ranks fourth in the league behind only Khris Middleton, James Harden, and Steph Curry.

OK, so he’s taking more difficult shots while being guarded more closely? Is this just a small sample size blip before an inevitable regression? I don’t think so, for a few reasons. For one, last season was by far the worst shooting season of his career. Secondly (and likely relatedly), remember that lower leg stress injury I mentioned before? It lingered until almost February, and could’ve been a major factor in Hardaway’s struggles. If Timmy can stay healthy this season, I think we’ll look back at last season as the outlier.

But, the most encouraging thing I’ve seen to indicate actual progress is the way Hardaway is getting to his shots this year, primarily via the pick-and-roll. Per Synergy, 33.8% of THJ’s derived offense is coming out of the pick-and-roll where he’s ranking in the 70th percentile in efficiency. Last year, 27.3% of Timmy’s offense came out of the pick-and-roll where he ranked in the 31st percentile. So far, this year he’s 19-for-42 on shots out of the pick-and-roll, good for an eFG of 52.4%. Here, Kanter manages to tangle feet with Victor Oladipo while making it look inadvertent (love Kanter screens), and Myles Turner gives zero contest:

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And here, Mario Hezonja slips the screen long before setting it, causing Marcus Smart to retreat just enough for THJ to step into a pull-up jumper:

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What may be even more surprising than Hardaway’s effectiveness scoring out the pick-and-roll has been his ability to make plays for others. Through eight games, Hardaway has run 75 possession-ending pick-and-rolls, meaning they ended in a shot, turnover, foul, or assist. He has attempted to shoot 53 times and attempted to pass 22 times. He has turned it over twice on those passes and his teammates are 6-of-11 on shots off looks from Timmy. Here, he comes off Fizdale’s oft-used double screen set, and finds a wide open rolling Kanter:

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I really liked this one, where his dribble drive forces Kevin Durant to commit and Klay Thompson to rotate to Vonleh. Draymond Green is slow to fill and Hardaway does a great job finding Ntilikina:

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So much of Hardaway’s value lies in his ability to create at an above average level for his teammates. As mentioned, he’s averaging a career-high in assists per game and needs to continue sharing the ball at this rate. His presence as a secondary ball-handler will take some pressure off Frank without stifling his development (like, say too many Mudiay or Burke minutes might).

Shot selection is still something he needs to continue to refine. He takes at least one shot per game where I audibly groan (though this season he’s been making most of them). If I had to predict, I’d say his pull-up efficiency will decline a substantial amount. His current rate isn’t sustainable for anybody outside Curry. His catch-and-shoot numbers are strong (59.6% eFG on 52 attempts), and will likely dip, but not fall off a cliff. Based on his career history and factoring in room for improvement, he will likely finish the season with a three-point field goal percentage around 37% (a career high) on ~8 attempts per game (also a career high). That number, though not elite, would be extremely solid for a guy who, on many nights, has to carry this young team’s offense.

THJ is the best creator for himself and others on the squad. As such, he’ll be forced to take some tough, end-of-the-shot-clock fade-aways that will hurt his percentages. But, I’m not so worried about his percentages. I’ll be more focused on the process it takes for him to get shots for himself and others. One thing I’ll definitely be tracking is whether he can sustain his current level of play out of the pick-and-roll.

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