Story by KL Chouinard
Atlanta Hawks Head Coach Mike Budenholzer has seen the same thing that most Hawks fan have seen: Tim Hardaway Jr. blasting toward the rim and finishing his shots there assertively. Very assertively.
To put it another way, Budenholzer thinks it would be hard not to notice.
“Oh sure. I like to stay focused and concentrated, but there’s a little fan in all of us. When he does the things that he does and can rise up and finish, and finish with authority, and dunk…” Budenholzer said before trailing off and laughing. “I have a pulse. I noticed.”
Hardaway has literally taken his dunking to another level this season and, given the higher planes at which he is completing them, that’s not a misuse of the word ‘literally’. In 23 games this season, Hardaway has more dunks (11) than he had all of last season (10).
Teammate Mike Muscala has noticed too. Muscala, who spent more time working out with him this summer than any other player, said that Hardaway’s elevation starts down low.
“His legs, you can tell, are really strong,” Muscala said. “He had a good offseason in terms of strength and conditioning. At this point in most of our careers, the dunks that we have in our arsenal are there, but it’s just (a question of), ‘Can you get to them with your legs?'”
For Hardaway, the answers to that question are almost always in the affirmative.
“We would dead lift a lot,” Muscala added, “and for a guy his size, it was really impressive. He could lift a lot.”
It seems as though the training regimen instilled in Hardaway an increased sense of confidence, one that has him stalking the rim on a more regular basis. Last season, Hardaway drove the ball to the rim 60 times in 864 minutes, or roughly once every 14.4 minutes. This season, Hardaway has nearly doubled that rate of attack, driving 63 times in 488 minutes, or approximately once every 7.7 minutes. He is shooting well on those drives too. His field goal percentage within 8 feet of the rim, 63.9 percent, ranks high above the league average success rate.
Hardaway credited his teammates with finding him on the fast break.
“Getting some transition buckets, that always helps,” Hardaway said, “and I’ve got bigs who can outlet the ball for easy lay-ins and easy dunks. It helps out a lot and fuels our team.”
Like Muscala, Hardaway thought that much of the upswing in his vertical game stemmed from his summer training.
“I think it’s just having that killer instinct, just improving my game in the offseason, and just having that killer mindset to go out there and play hard,” Hardaway said. “When you’re attacking the rim, good things happen.”
Does a highlight dunk bring value above and beyond two points? Hardaway seems to think so, and it would be hard to argue against him.
“It changes your mindset,” he said. “It amps not only yourself up, but your teammates up – just like in the game we played against Milwaukee. Taurean Prince had a big time dunk, and I followed it up with a dunk right after that. It brings the house down. It brings the energy.”
The Hardaway dunk that stood out in Muscala’s mind came against the Suns when Hardaway drove baseline, elevated after planting a foot on the restricted circle and dunked from the other side of the rim.
“I really realized it when he did that reverse dunk against Phoenix,” Muscala said. “He took one dribble and punched it.”
Check out some of Hardaway’s best dunks of the season so far: