With trust, Hardaway Jr. increased role with Hawks

Defense got Tim Hardaway Jr. on the floor.

Trust is keeping him there.

The guard had season-highs in six statistics as part of a balanced attack that led to the Hawks lopsided 124-86 win at the 76ers Wednesday night. It was the 16th straight game played for Hardaway after appearing in just four of the Hawks’ first 35 contests.

“You earn the trust off your teammates; you earn the trust of your coach,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said prior to the victory. “He’s doing all those little things in a way that earns that.”

Hardaway had a team-high 13 points, along with Dennis Schroder, as the Hawks had all 13 players score with eight in double-figures. The point total was a season-high for Hardaway, eclipsing the 10 points he scored at the Heat just three days earlier. He also set season-highs in minutes (25:47), field goals (5), rebounds (7) and assists (4). He tied his season-high in field goal attempts (8).

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Hardaway may have broken into the rotation last month after returning from a two-game stint in the NBA Development League but he is now a consistent contributor.

“It’s just playing hard,” Hardaway said. “You have to run the floor and make the right decisions when you are out there. Just keep on competing. You are going to make mistakes on the offensive end but you can control what you do on defense. You have to make it a key to be in the right spot and the right time, box out, rebound, run the lanes when you are supposed to.”

Budenholzer has previously said it was Hardaway’s commitment to defense that earned his place in the bench rotation. Budenholzer reiterated that stance and pointed the numerous little things that Hardaway has done to earn his trust and increased playing time. That is how 12 minutes per game has turned into more than 20 minutes in each of the past three games.

“I keep saying how happy we are with his defense,” Budenholzer said. “I think he’s really improved and really committed to that end of the court, whether it be fighting through screens in pick-and-roll situations, fighting through screens in off-the-ball situations, sprinting back in transition. There is a focus, an effort, on the defensive end.

“I think people don’t appreciate his athleticism. And so you are seeing it on the defensive end of the court and now you are seeing it on the offensive end of the court. That is the thing that we’ve learned and grown the most together, I think he can really attack the basket, do things off the dribble, get to the paint and I think he’s passing it pretty well too. Obviously he can make shots, but he’s got a lot more to offer. He’s just doing all of those things in positive ways.

The Hawks obtained Hardaway during a draft-night trade with the Knicks, essentially giving up their first-round selection on a would-be rookie for the guard who had two years of experience. It took some time for Hardaway to get healthy, get into the Hawks’ player development system and grasp the defense-first mentality. And in doing so, he’s gained the Hawks’ trust.

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