It seems that every year, a largely unheralded player will erupt in the NBA playoffs and earn himself a large pay raise the very next season. Last season’s was Bismack Biyombo, who had a great postseason run with the Toronto Raptors that he turned into a four-year, $72 million contract with the Orlando Magic. Players make their legacies in the postseason, but it’s also a way for a player to make himself more money.
It’s hard to predict which player will follow that trend this year – by definition, the player has to be largely under-the-radar. There are several candidates that would make sense, but one in particular stands out. Tim Hardaway Jr. has a famous name that makes him stand out, but there’s plenty about his game that should appeal to modern NBA teams.
Hardaway spent his first two seasons with the New York Knicks before getting traded to the Atlanta Hawks before the 2015-16 season. After Atlanta shipped Kyle Korver to the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this year, Hardaway took over as the starting shooting guard, where he’s exceeded expectations. And at just 25 years old, the former Michigan Wolverine still has his best years ahead of him.
Modern NBA teams are obsessed with athleticism and 3-point shooting, and Hardaway provides both of those things. He attempted over five 3-pointers per game this season, hitting 35.7 percent. That’s not exactly setting the world on fire from distance, but it’s more than enough for opposing teams to respect him. A hot streak from behind the arc in the playoffs would be enough to woo teams around the league that are desperate for more shooting. He’s not just a one-trick pony, either: he has the athleticism to take a player off the dribble and finish off with a slam over a big rim protector. Watch him dunk on the Rockets’ Clint Capela from the team’s matchup in early February, where Hardaway scored 23 fourth-quarter points to finish with a career-high 33 and lead his Hawks to a comeback victory:
Teams drool over exactly that type of play, especially when it’s combined with a dangerous perimeter jumper.
At 6 feet 5 inches, Hardaway also has the size and length to be disruptive on defense. He hasn’t been great on that end, but he hasn’t been terrible. The Hawks are virtually the same in defensive rating whether he’s on the court or off, according to NBA.com. His height and athleticism would also imply a better rebounding ability, but Hardaway’s career-high in that category is just 2.4 per game. He’s also not the greatest at creating offense for others, averaging just 2.3 assists per game on the season. Still, the mixture of size, athleticism and shooting should be enough to earn him some attention.
It won’t be easy to get Hardaway from Atlanta, though. He’s a restricted free agent this summer, meaning the Hawks will be able to match any offer he’s given. With a nice run in the postseason, though, a team might be able to outbid Atlanta, especially since the Hawks just gave Kent Bazemore $70 last summer.
Hardaway has all the tools to make himself a pretty penny. All he needs to do is put them all together at the right time.
Featured image by Keith Allison, courtesy of CreativeCommons.org