Keltner List: Tim Hardaway
As you may or may not have seen, Tim Hardaway had his #10 jersey retired by the Miami Heat last night. I don’t need to tell you that any discussion of Hardaway is invariably going to lead to (if not begin with — heck, look at this post) the topic of the homophobic remarks he made in February 2004 on Dan Le Batard’s radio show. What Hardaway said was unquestionably wrong, hateful, & ignorant, but it’s unfortunate that those comments have overshadowed Tim Bug’s career, because when he was in his prime the man could really play. Let’s evaluate how the merits of that play stack up against the standards of the Hall of Fame…
Height: 6-0 Weight: 175 lbs.
Born: September 1, 1966 in Chicago, Illinois
High School: Carver in Chicago, Illinois
College: University of Texas at El Paso
Draft: Drafted by the Golden State Warriors in the 1st round (14th pick, 14th overall) of the 1989 NBA draft.
1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in basketball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in basketball? Tim Bug was 1st-team All-NBA in 1997 and received some MVP consideration, but even at that time it was never suggested that he was the game’s best player. Best point guard? Sure. But nobody was ranking him ahead of guys like Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, and Grant Hill.
2. Was he the best player on his team? Eh, it’s debatable between him and Alonzo Mourning, but I’ll go with “yes”, because he led both the ’97 and ’98 Heat in Win Shares.
3. Was he the best player in basketball at his position? You could make the case, and as I mentioned earlier, he was in the conversation throughout the 1990s. Now, that decade was something of a golden age for point guards, so between John Stockton, Gary Payton, Jason Kidd, Kevin Johnson, Mookie Blaylock, and Terrell Brandon, even a star 1-guard had some heady competition for the title of “best player at his position” in those days. The closest Tim Bug ever came was probably 1997, when he was the 1st-Team All-Pro G alongside Jordan, was second only to Stockton in Win Shares, and trailed only Blaylock and Kenny Anderson in SPM. Compare Hardaway and Stockton that year:
Personally, I like Stockton’s efficiency, but it’s close enough that you can make an argument either way.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of NBA Finals or Conference Finals? Not particularly. The Run-TMC Warriors were usually early outs, and while Hardaway and the Heat prevailed in a tough Eastern Conference Semifinal against the Knicks in 1997, they were dispatched in 5 games by the dominant Bulls in the Conference Finals. From that point on, Hardaway’s playoff resume in Miami reads like this: 1st-round loss, 1st-round loss, 2nd-round loss, 1st-round loss, 1st-round loss. (He would make the playoffs again as a bit player on Indiana in 2003, losing again in the 1st round.) Hardaway had a masterful performance in Game 7 of the ’97 Miami-New York series, but all in all, he didn’t have much of a postseason impact overall.
5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime? Not really. Hardaway peaked really late as far as pipsqueak guards go (he was 30 in 1997), so you could say the fact that he had only 2 or so post-prime seasons as a starter shouldn’t really be held against him, but at the same time he went from being a top-tier PG to playing 23 MPG for a 27-win Nuggets team in 3 years flat.
6. Is he the very best (eligible) basketball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame? Not if Artis is still on the outs, he’s not.
7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame? Not really — Lenny Wilkens is just about the only player with similar career stats to Hardaway that is enshrined in Springfield.
8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards? Maybe. According to our Hall of Fame probability metric, Hardaway has a 76.5% chance of eventually being inducted, which is higher than a number of players who are already in.
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his basic statistics? Perhaps — in both a bad and a good way. Defensively, Hardaway was physical, but he played significant minutes on a number of poor defensive teams in Golden State and his lack of size was a liability against bigger guards. On the other hand, he was a vocal leader on those Heat teams, for what that’s worth, and he was known for not backing down when it came to taking the big shot under pressure.
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame? It’s debatable. Mark Jackson will be eligible next year, Rod Strickland the year after that. Kevin Johnson (probably the best of the bunch) has been eligible for years, as have Mo Cheeks & Terry Porter. And how exactly is Dennis Johnson not already in the Hall of Fame?
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close? Hardaway was an MVP-caliber player in 1996-97 and 97-98, both years when he finished in the top 7 in Win Shares and the top 6 in MVP voting. He also received MVP consideration in 1991-92, when he was the 2nd-leading scorer on a Warriors team that won 55 games.
12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame? He was an All-Star caliber player in 1991, ’92, (maybe) ’93, ’97, & ’98, and he went to an ASG in each of those seasons. Players with 5 ASGs include Carl Braun, Wayne Embry, Brad Daugherty, Dennis Johnson, Sidney Moncrief, Chris Mullin, Marques Johnson, Chris Webber, Paul Westphal, and Rudy Tomjanovich, among others. So, in other words, players who played as many ASGs as Tim Bug don’t really tend to make the Hall.
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win an NBA title? I’d say no. Even in his prime, Hardaway needed to be on a team with another player who was arguably as good as him (Zo Mourning) to be a contender, and even if you take Jordan’s Bulls — admittedly a once-in-a-generation wrecking crew — out of the mix, the ’97 Heat would not have been favored to beat the Utah Jazz, a typical “championship-caliber team”, in the Finals.
14. What impact did the player have on basketball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way? Was his college and/or international career especially noteworthy? Argue if you want, but I maintain that his crossover was the best ever:
I kid you not, when I was a young player coming up in AAU & high school, “The Hardaway Move” (in and out, between the legs, and behind the back) was taught to us by coaches. I’m not sure how much of a developmental impact it truly had on players like Allen Iverson, though, since Hardaway’s “UTEP Two Step” was, at its core, still fundamentally sound, and Iverson’s crosses always fell more on the “carrying” end of the spectrum. And besides, we didn’t need Hardaway to make the killer cross cool — it was always awesome.
The Verdict: Like any great point guard I’m going to have to pass. Hardaway was a great point guard in his prime, but that lasted only two seasons. In the years before with Golden State, he was a very good player but not an all-timer, and after his knee injury in 1999 he was never the same again. Regardless of what you think about his personal views, Tim Bug was a very good basketball player with occasional moments of true greatness. Unfortunately, though, those moments simply didn’t come frequently enough over the course of his career to warrant his induction into the Hall of Fame.