Every Championship Contender in the NBA looks for steady presence coming off the bench; the type of player that will thrive in a tight matchup so your starter can get an extra breather. The energy that a player can give not only the team, but the crowd is pivotal throughout the rigorous 82 game season and more importantly during the playoffs. For the Warriors and Cavaliers last season, both had key contributors off the bench whether it’s a defensive specialist or a player that boost your second unit offensively. For example, the Cavaliers fan favorite Matthew Dellavadova brought a jolt of energy and physicality on the floor every time he stepped on the court. His intensity and hardcore grit brought a nuisance factor into the equation.
As for Golden State, veteran Shaun Livingston came off the bench and seemingly took over a few games in the NBA Finals allowing Steph Curry to get a few minutes of rest. Every team with championship aspirations needs role players that can provide a boost to their team such as Livingston and Dellavadova. In recent memory, every contender has made an strong effort whether it’s in Free Agency or via trade to obtain a valuable impact player to bolster their second unit.
For the Hawks, I believe we have that impact player in Tim Hardaway Jr. He’s the prototypical type impact player that the Hawks invested in very strategically and last season, we saw how he could produce for the lineup when the team suffered a few injuries. However, he’s an inconsistent defender and struggled in key situations on offense last season resulting in him spending a small stint in the D League. After the Hawks called him back to the 15 man roster, he was a man on a mission ready to prove to the fans, teammates, and head coach Mike Budenholzer that he belonged here in Atlanta. During the Hawks season opener at home against the Wizards, Hardaway put everyone on notice. Scoring 21 points in just 23 minutes while shooting 8/13 from the field and 3/5 from the three-point line to help fuel the Hawks to victory.
The Hawks were a staggering plus 23 when he was on the court, which is good for any player but simply amazing for a role player. His stellar game gave the Hawks a desperate shot in the arm which allowed them to pull away to a 114-99 victory against a pesky Washington Wizards team. Although it is a very small sample size with the home opener being the Hawks first game of the season; if Hardaway can be a consistent impact player on both ends of the floor, he’ll provide an immense boost to the 2016-17 roster.
Since the home opener, Hardaway Jr. has continued to impress as Atlanta’s emerging sixth man. Although he only posted seven points, three rebounds, and one assist in a win against Philadelphia followed by a five point, two rebound effort against the Sacramento Kings, Hardaway had another solid outing against the Lakers in a loss when he posted 26 points and one assist; however, the Hawks had one of their worst defensive nights of the season. In Friday’s loss at Washington, Hardaway Jr was productive off the bench again posting 10 points, three assists and four rebounds. Although he wasn’t as productive in last night’s win against Houston, he’s been the best player off the bench for the Atlanta Hawks through the first six games.
Throughout the season, we’ll see Hardaway take on the sixth man role similar to how current starter Dennis Schroder was over the last few seasons although he was known as the backup to Former Hawk Jeff Teague. Schroder was a change of pace guy that most teams needed as he contributed around 12-13 points per game. If anyone can bring a similar offensive impact to the Hawks, it’s Hardaway Jr. Again, the biggest concern for the shooting guard is his consistency, if he contributes as the Hawks sixth man similar to Schroder, I don’t see why the Hawks can’t contend for the Eastern Conference crown in the playoffs. Coach Bud saw something in Hardaway Jr. enough to trade a first-round pick for him in 2015, so if the start to Hardaway’s season is any indicator on what’s to come from him during his second full year in Atlanta, then True Believers, we are in for something special. #TrueToAtlanta