Hardaway: "I Love It (In Atlanta)"

Kevin Liles/NBAE/Getty Images

Story by KL Chouinard
Twitter: @KLChouinard

Tim Hardaway Jr. enjoyed a marvelous breakout 2016-17 season, setting career highs in points, rebounds and assists while finishing third on the team in points per game (14.5). To dig into the roots of his successful campaign, one doesn't have to look further than the training work he put in last summer with the Hawks' training staff and teammate Mike Muscala.

"Muskie, myself, Edy Tavares, we went on the (outdoor running) track at 7 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday," Hardaway said. "We were doing sprints. We were out there from 7:00 a.m. to 7:45 a.m., and right after that we would come straight to the gym at the facility to lift weights and do some fast court work.

The intense workouts sometimes lasted up to six hours. Hardaway took to the workouts with the approach of rebuilding himself from the ground up. Or to put it another way, he never skipped leg day. 

"When I was in the weight room this summer, I told the strength staff that I just wanted to concentrate on lower body," Hardaway said. "Always lower body. I didn't care if we had to do deadlifts or RDLs."

Romanian deadlifts must be good for three-point shots (officially) and breathtaking high-wire dunks (unofficially) because Hardaway led the Hawks in both categories. 

Threes and dunks went together like biscuits and jam for Hardaway this season. Whenever the Hawks ran an action that ended with the ball kicked out to a semi-open Hardaway in the corner, defenses had a difficult choice to make. Close out forcefully and Hardaway would duck under it, gobble three steps of baseline and dunk. Close out cautiously and he would rise smoothly for a three-point attempt, which he converted at a solid 35.7 percent clip.

The threes often led to getting hot, which in turn led to some explosive fourth quarters when the Hawks wisely turned the offense over to Hardaway Jr. In the season opener, he scored 12 points in the final quarter against Washington. He also had 15-point fourth quarters against rivals Boston and Cleveland. But the ultimate Tim-Hardaway-Jr.-went-nuclear moment came in Houston when he scored 23 points in the final 12 minutes in a road win over James Harden and the Rockets.

What was good for Hardaway Jr. individually was also good for the team. The Hawks played a completely different brand of offense with his dual-threat playmaking on the floor. The Hawks scored 106.2 points per 100 possessions with Hardaway Jr. on the floor this season compared to just 97.7 per 100 when he rested. Even when he wasn't scoring, just the simple threat of him scoring made offense easier for his teammates. 

Hardaway Jr. said that he appreciates the tough love he received when he arrived in Atlanta.

"I love it here," Hardaway Jr. said. "Atlanta brought me here, and it really felt like I was starting as a rookie all over again when I was here. With that being said, they made me go through some tough times and it made me mature a lot more as a person – on and off the court. It made me appreciate the game of basketball a whole lot more than I did when I first came into the league. That's what I'm thankful for."

Of course, a lot of that player development goes back to Hardaway Jr. working his tail off to turn himself into an athletic marvel. When asked for a number that indicated how he transformed his body, Hardaway Jr. shared his absurdly low body-fat percentage.

"It's clearly under 6," he said. "We measure it every other week, so I'm definitely below 6."

Then realizing that he left me in a somewhat unspecified grey area, he grinned and got more specific.

"It's below 5.9 too," he laughed.