Most basketball fans know that Michigan sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr.’s father is a former NBA star — having played professionally for 14 years, most of which with the Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat.
And ever since Hardaway Jr. broke out during the second half of last season and helped lead the Michigan basketball team to a surprise NCAA Tournament berth, he’s seemed destined to become the second in his family to play in the NBA.
Based on past high school rankings, this would be a surprise — Hardaway Jr. was not considered an elite recruit, and he didn’t pick up offers from top-25 programs until long after he had already committed to the Wolverines.
But the Miami, Fla. native was the team’s leading scorer in Big Ten play last season, averaging 14.9 points per game.
Hardaway Jr. is averaging 17.3 points this season, and in an exclusive interview with The Michigan Daily at the Maui Invitational, ESPN NBA Draft analyst Chad Ford said he’s noticed improvements in the guard’s game.
“I think Hardaway Jr. has improved from when I saw him as a freshman,” Ford said. “Mainly that goes with shot selection, which is natural. You’re used to being the man in high school, and then making that jump is a pretty big jump. … You clearly saw last year he was talented, but you cringed at some of the shots he would take.”
Last summer, Hardaway Jr. — in preparation for a new role as Michigan’s go-to scorer in the wake of point guard Darius Morris’s early departure to the NBA — worked on the areas of the game he felt were lacking, specifically ball handling and mid-range shooting.
The goal was to become more well-rounded, improving in areas other than his already-established ability to knock down the 3-pointer. It also would make Hardaway Jr. more of a weapon on the ball screens that are so critical to Michigan coach John Beilein’s offense and that Morris thrived on as the team’s leading scorer a year ago.
So far, the work seems to have paid off. Just 26.2 percent of Hardaway Jr.’s points have come from 3-pointers, whereas last season that figure was 47 percent. And Ford said that it isn’t a huge issue that Hardaway Jr. is a bit of a tweener between the “two” and “three” positions, since in the NBA the difference between the positions is largely inconsequential.
Hardaway Jr. also played in the FIBA U19 World Championships last July, scoring 21 points in the final game against Australia and clinching fifth place for Team USA.
“I think the Team USA experience has helped him as well,” Ford said. “I feel like he’s a lot more poised.”
But the analyst says the sophomore still has more to work on.
“He’s got good size for his position, he’s athletic, he can shoot the basketball, and he can put the ball on the floor, get to the basket,” Ford said. “He’s got a lot of the tools that you sort of look for in a wing. If he was a better ball-handler — and it’s ironic, because his dad was amazing — that’s probably his biggest weakness. I think he (also) needs to get a little more consistent from 3-point range.
“But I think he’s a pro.”
Ford said Hardaway Jr. isn’t currently considered a first-round prospect, but if he and Michigan have a big year and he returns for his junior season, his draft stock could rise to that status. But Ford said that his ceiling isn’t that high and that being a lottery pick probably isn’t in the cards, saying that most scouts and general managers don’t see Hardaway Jr. as a “superstar.”
In trying to find a player with a similar game, Ford compared Hardaway Jr. to another tweener in Chicago Bulls guard/forward Jimmy Butler, a Marquette product who was picked with the last pick in the first round in June.
Of course, all this analysis is overshadowed by the larger question — will Hardaway Jr. leave the Wolverines after this season? It would be the third consecutive year with an early departure for Michigan, after Morris surprised many by leaving school after his sophomore season and Manny Harris left the year before.
“He won’t need the money, and a lot of times that’s a big issue for players,” Ford said. “He’s got his dad, (so) he’s going to have access to more NBA guys giving him their opinions, which means he probably won’t get bad info. I probably say he stays, but I’m always surprised.”
For Michigan, the primary concern is how Hardaway Jr. plays this season. After a Maui Invitational in which the guard averaged 20 points per game against top competition, the Wolverines hope his play continues at the rate that so impresses their opponents.
“Hardaway (Jr.) is a gifted player,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski after Michigan’s 82-75 loss to the Blue Devils. “He’s going to be a pro. He’s one of the best players in the country.”
This is part one of the Daily’s interview with Ford. Part two on Thursday will focus on freshman point guard Trey Burke.