By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
After three successful seasons at the University of Michigan, Tim Hardaway, Jr.'s qualifications as an NBA prospect were obvious: he has length, shooting ability, and poise to go with the pedigree of having a father who excelled in the league.
Many believe that his role in the Wolverines' rise to power during his tenure was not incidental.
Not only did he offer a pro skill set, but a mature, well-rounded game developed over time under head coach John Beilein. When the Knicks made him the 24th pick in last month's draft, G.M. Glen Grunwald told KnicksNow that Hardaway's potential to contribute right away was a driving factor in his selection.
A look back at his Michigan career, by the numbers, suggests that the organization's faith is in the right place.
By most measures, his best statistical season was his freshman year in Ann Arbor. As the only real scoring threat behind Darius Morris (who last played with the Lakers), Hardaway played just over 30 minutes a game, taking 5.9 threes and making 36.7% of them on the way to a Michigan freshman record for makes in a season (76).
His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) was 20.3, which in the NBA would put you in All-Star discussion. He was a unanimous Big Ten All-Freshman team selection and an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection.
Talented teammates were on the way -- his role would change -- but at that point, Hardaway was putting the ball on the floor and creating offense.
Becoming an NBA Two
Hardaway was a three-year starter and the Wolverines won 70 percent of their games during his career, making it all the way to the NCAA National Championship game last season.
As the team improved from 21 to 24 to 31 wins, highly-skilled players like Trey Burke, Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskus joined the program. Together, they developed into the second most efficient offense in the country this past year.
Burke emerged as the conductor, and Hardaway's game evolved. Michigan picked teams apart with pick-and-rolls and ball movement. They ran through the Big Ten, and Hardaway showcased his development as a scorer in the 3-heavy offense.
Primarily an off-the-dribble offensive player his first two seasons, he needed to show scouts that he could play shooting guard in the NBA. He needed to show he could catch and shoot.
As a junior, he did that.
According to DraftExpress, 40 percent of Hardaway's field goal attempts as a junior came in catch-and-shoot situations. And by "getting great elevation on his jumper and shooting the ball with fluid mechanics, Hardaway made 44% of his unguarded spot-up shots in 2013."
Shooting 28 percent from three as a sophomore looks like an aberration, as he shot a career-best 37.4% from deep as a junior and during Michigan's tourney run, he upped it to 38.2.
Despite nearly identical scoring averages and minutes over his last two seasons (14.6 points, 34.2 minutes per game as a sophomore, 14.5 and 34.8 as a junior), Hardaway's game had changed. He was a more complete player.
Keeping up with Burke
Among the many benefits of playing alongside consensus NCAA First Team All-American and ninth overall pick, Trey Burke, is that you quickly learn where to be.
With a future lottery pick running the show, your cuts have to be crisp, your reads precise as you work off the ball. If you can fill the lane for him, that answers a lot of questions for NBA general managers.
One of the best playmakers in the country, Burke led an attack with many NBA principles -- heavy pick-and-roll, drive-and-kick, spacing and 3-point shooting -- and Hardaway was right there with him:
- Burke finished his college career as a 36.7 percent 3-point shooter, which happens to be the same number that Hardaway shot as a freshman and exceeded (37.4) as a junior.
- Burke lowered his turnover rate to 11.9% as a sophomore last season after turning it over on 16.7% of possessions as a freshman. In three years, Hardaway had a career 11.4% turnover rate.
Ready for New York
The Knicks know that Hardaway is ready for the bright lights because they've seen it firsthand. Michigan played three games in New York City this past year -- two at Madison Square Garden and one at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The games just so happened to be three of his best of the year.
On November 21st and 23rd, 2012, the Wolverines faced Pittsburgh and Kansas State at the Garden and Hardaway combined for 39 points on 57% shooting.
He turned it up a notch against West Virginia in December in Brooklyn, tying a season high with 25 points as Michigan improved its record to 11-0.
Hardaway had scored in single digits in three of the previous four games, but after his performance in Brooklyn, Beilein voiced his support for his junior leader:
"Once he hits the first couple, you hope it's going to continue. I see him in practice every day. We want them to take the same shots in games that they make in practice and Tim makes those in practice."
The Brooklyn breakout marked the beginning of a nine-game stretch in which he averaged 17.2 points and shot 51.5% from the floor.