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How Hardaway Jr. earned his way into Hawks’ rotation

Three weeks ago, Tim Hardaway Jr. was on assignment in the NBA Development League.

Now, he has earned his way into the Hawks’ regular rotation with his eighth straight appearance in Wednesday’s 104-98 win over the Trail Blazers.

Here’s how he did it, according to coach Mike Budenholzer.

“He worked so hard,” Budenholzer said before Wednesday’s victory. “We were saying how hard he was working and when he’s not playing it’s hard to believe it or appreciate it or both.

“I think he really put in time in the weight room. He missed a little bit of the summer with his (injured) wrist. His athleticism, his pop, which is one of the things that intrigued us about him, has returned. Then, he’s just working defensively. He’s getting over screens, fighting through screens. He just really understands how important it is to be good defensively and you see it when he’s playing. He’s communicating. He’s talking. He’s working. On the offensive end, he’s just letting it come to him.”

So the offensive talent earned his way with his defensive improvement.

Hardaway’s lack of playing time this season has been well-documented. The Hawks traded their first-round pick in June’s NBA Draft to acquire the shooting guard. When he appeared in just four of the Hawks’ first 35 games, the move came under great speculation. The Hawks coaching staff and management preached patience as they got Hardaway in their player development system.

Hardaway said Wednesday his emergence has been a combination of understanding the team’s defensive system and getting healthy.

“It’s a little bit of both but it’s also the wanting,” Hardaway said. “You put your mind to it then it comes a lot easier. That’s what I’ve focused on and it’s helped me get in the lineup and I make sure that it all falls into place when I’m on the floor.”

Hardaway played 10:40 against the Trail Blazers and missed his only shot. He added one assist and one blocked shot. Still in the past eight games he has scored 32 points, including three eight-point performances. He has done so on 12 of 29 shooting with five 3-pointers. Hardaway has added 12 assists and seven rebounds and averaged 15.5 minutes. Hardaway is known for his outside shot but he contributed a couple thunderous dunks to this total.

“It feels great but it doesn’t stop there,” Hardaway said of his strides on defense. “There are always things to work on and learn from. I’m learning from Thabo (Sefolosha) and (Kent) Bazemore when they are out there. They are talking to me while I’m on the bench and figuring out ways I can make myself better on that end of the floor.”

Hardaway added he is letting the offense come to him.

“In this offense when you have the opportunity to shoot the ball, you have to deliver,” he said. “I feel like I’m there right now. I can do better. It’s a progress each and every day, each and every game. I just trying to get better.”

Budenholzer said Wednesday that, for the most part, he has settled on the current rotation of 10 players. Hardaway Jr. is one of them. He could be a big plus for the Hawks going forward as part of the wing rotation.

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