NBA / Sep 25, 2009 / 10:00 am

Who was better: Tim Hardaway or Kevin Johnson?

Tim Hardaway

We argue. You decide.

TIM HARDAWAY (by Austin Burton)
The first thing you have to understand about Tim Hardaway is that he was more than just a big crossover and a smile.

Maybe not Hall of Famer, maybe not even truly deserving of having his number retired by the Heat or the Warriors, Hardaway still put a stamp on the NBA that should be bigger than one iconic move. He cracked 5,000 points and 2,500 assists faster (at the time) than anyone since Oscar. He was a five-time All-Star and ranks seventh all-time in threes made, 13th in assists. Not to mention he had a spin move as slick as a pimp’s testimony, a teardrop floater Tony Parker would co-sign, and he played solid defense (1.6 spg). But you never get past the crossover. It’s like revering Michael Jackson for the moonwalk and forgetting Thriller and Bad ever happened.

But you’ve seen the mixtape tour: Having a killer go-to move doesn’t mean much if you can’t finish. So when Hardaway used the cross to skate past his man or send him stumbling backwards like he’d landed a stiff jab, he could then unspool that compact 6-foot frame into a quick pull-up three, get a layup with either hand, or draw the D and rack up assists. Style-wise, Hardaway was something like Baron Davis without the vertical, but with better shot selection.

In comparison to Kevin Johnson, the only thing that really stands out on either side is range. Hardaway was a prolific sniper, hitting 35.5% from three on more than 4,300 attempts; KJ’s long-distance game was basically nonexistent. For his career, Johnson only hit 160 threes total, at a 30.5% rate; Hardaway hit more than 160 in a single season three times. Johnson was more of a driver (6.3 FTA per game), Hardaway (3.7 FTA per game) more of a shooter. Preference honestly depends on the coach, the system and the teammates, but consider this: In 1994, when both were in their prime, KJ only made the Dream Team II roster because Hardaway got hurt and they needed an alternate.

Hardaway also proved to be more versatile. As much as the League’s entertainment value suffered when Golden State broke up Run-TMC, going to Miami was perfect for Hardaway. With the Heat, he showed he wasn’t just a guy who could get behind the wheel of a fast car and avoid running it into a tree. Hardaway’s numbers dropped — he went from 20-and-10 in Golden State to about 17-and-7 in Miami — but he maintained an All-Star level while quarterbacking a perennial contender in the rough-and-tumble ’90s East, running Pat Riley‘s murderball playbook. Not that anybody should’ve been questioning a PG hewn on Chicago’s playgrounds, but Hardaway showed a toughness in Miami some didn’t know he had. And not to say Kevin Johnson was soft, but … well, once upon a time I did hear George Karl call KJ “The Desert Princess.”

Kevin Johnson

I’m going to start this off with a bold statement — I firmly believe that had KJ not been affected by injuries for the bulk of his career, he would’ve gone down as one of the top five point guards to ever play the game.

But, that’s a debate for another day…

Strictly from a statistical point of view, Johnson’s had some of the best seasons by a point guard in NBA history. He’s one of only three players to average at least 20 points and 12 assists in a season (Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson). He was the first player in NBA history to average 20 points, 10 assists, and two steals a game while shooting 50% from the floor.

Furthermore, he’s one of just three players to average 20 points and 10 assists for three consecutive seasons (Oscar Robertson, Isiah Thomas). These highlight a career in which KJ only played 735 games (he only played more than 75 games in a season four times in 12 years) and averaged 17.9 points and 9.1 assists.

Essentially, every argument that can be thrown KJ’s way in regards to Hardaway being the better player can be trumped by Johnson. For example, from a skills standpoint, Hardaway had a killer crossover that was unmatched. That’s great, but KJ could use his 6-1 frame to dunk on some of the League’s all-time best (namely Hakeem Olajuwon). Timmy was a prolific scorer and could get into the lane easily. Sure, but KJ was virtually unguardable with his ability to drive to the left and shot a higher career FG percentage (49 to 43). Hardaway had a better assist-to-turnover ratio, but KJ’s PER career rating of 20.7 (including one year with an insane 23.7) is better than Hardaway’s career average of 18.6 (highest individual season was 20.9).

Over the span of an entire career not hampered by injuries, Hardaway bests KJ in a considerable amount of career totals. As I said above, KJ was consistently burdened with injuries but still managed to attain some sick career numbers. KJ only has about 300 less assists than Hardaway, in spite of playing in 132 less games. However, KJ has a higher career scoring average, assist average, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and offensive rating.

In virtually every other category (leadership, teammate, selflessness, smarts) I’d take KJ, too. If you still don’t agree, just YouTube that dunk on Olajuwon if you need convincing. Unreal.

Who do you think was better?

Follow Ben York on Twitter: @bjyork
Follow Austin Burton on Twitter: @AustinatDIMEmag
Follow DIME on Twitter: @DIMEMag

“Who’s better?” archives
9/22 — Hedo Turkoglu vs. Rashard Lewis
9/15 — Reggie Miller vs. Clyde Drexler
9/2 — Chris Paul vs. Tony Parker
8/27 — Grant Hill vs. Trevor Ariza
8/25 — Baron Davis vs. Mike Bibby
8/21 — Shaquille O’Neal vs. Pau Gasol
8/19 — Andre Iguodala vs. Rudy Gay
8/14 — Ray Allen vs. Michael Redd
8/12 — Steve Nash vs. Jason Kidd
3/3 — David West vs. LaMarcus Aldridge
2/26 — Kevin Durant vs. Danny Granger
2/19 — Paul Millsap vs. David Lee
2/17 — Caron Butler vs. Tayshaun Prince
12/24 — Marcus Camby vs. Andrew Bynum
12/19 — Deron Williams vs. Chauncey Billups
12/17 — Manu Ginobili vs. Tracy McGrady
12/12 — Amare Stoudemire vs. Al Jefferson
12/10 — Dirk Nowitzki vs. Chris Bosh
12/9 — Derrick Rose vs. O.J. Mayo
12/8 — Rasheed Wallace vs. Elton Brand
12/5 — Kevin Martin vs. Vince Carter
12/4 — Brandon Roy vs. Joe Johnson
12/3 — Dwight Howard vs. Yao Ming
12/2 — Paul Pierce vs. Carmelo Anthony

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  • goonther

    oh man … two of my favorite players from the 90’s …

    gotta go with timmy

  • http://luckylester.com luckylester

    Both are greatly underrated. The ability to hit the three made Tim an all around threat from anywhere, and I think that opened up a lot for his big men to dominate. You could help off KJ, you couldn’t do that with Tim. I think averages are all about systems, I mean look at Shawn Marion’s differences since leaving Phoenix. It happens everywhere. Just look at the player, what he does with the opportunity he has. KJ was probably a better set up man, and maybe injuries did hamper his career – but that ability to stay healthy plays a big part. I would give the nod slightly to Tim, maybe it’s because he had one of the dirtiest crossovers ever, but I’d like to say it’s because he did everything well.

  • King

    KJ all day

    He was unguardable off the bounce And could finish strong

  • Sanssasin

    imma gonna go with timmy.

    this is a total bias opinion, ’cause i didn’t like kj when he played. that is what i am basing it off of.

  • Prof. TX

    Hardaway had a more complete game, both as an individual star and a team player.

    Every KJ story talks about ‘one time he dunked on Hakeem.’ Olajuwon also stopped a number of Jordan’s shots. Does that mean KJ is better than MJ? Of course not. A career isn’t just made by one play or one season.

  • Prof. TX

    Hardaway had a more complete game, both as an individual star and a team player.

    Every KJ story talks about ‘one time he dunked on Hakeem.’ Olajuwon also stopped a number of Jordan’s shots. Does that mean KJ is better than MJ? Of course not. A career isn’t just made by one play or one season.

  • flegman

    I wanted to be like KJ

  • jzsmoove

    This is a tie. I dont give ties and not because I like both of em. They were both fierce competitors and if you had both in your lineup, you just need to choose which one to start depending on the style of play of the opponent. Either way, its a win-win.

    And thanks Dime, now I had to go back to my archives and check THE cross-over by the man among kids. As well as KJ’s, his antics was extreme for his size back in the day.

  • KHenry

    Hardaway all day.

  • Eric Nichols

    I have a lot of respect for Timmy. However I loved the way KJ attacked the rim. Being a Laker supporter, KJ used to give the goods to Magic and B Scott all day. No joke. Hell of a player. I admire him as a person as well.

    Kevin “Mayor” Johnson.

  • TJ

    i”m going to go with KJ for his efficiency.

    If you look at Timmy, after his first few years, he was always shooting in the low 40s or even the 30s (!!!) for FG%. You can’t even say that he was a great three point shooter either, where he shot about 35%. That’s ok, but not amazing.

    KJ on the other hand always had his FG% up around 50%. Yea he didn’t make a lot of threes, but he also wasn’t attempting many. He was too busy scoring efficiently (and also handing out more assists).

  • karizmatic

    You know going into this argument I was saying Hardaway all the way, but Ben York makes a convincing argument. I’m still leaning toward Hardaway, but this is definitely one to think about. York you make a good argument. I still don’t think Johnson would have ever been one of the top 5 all time though. You’re talking Magic, Stockton, Isiah, Frazier, Oscar (if you consider him a point guard) Kidd, Archibald territory, Johnson better than any of them? Even not injured. I don’t think so.

  • http://www.kingsfans.com Willis

    Gerald Wallace vs. Josh Smith

  • Jayo

    Gotta go with KJ. He gets slept on b/c he was ballin in Phx when nobody was paying attention to them. But he was straight nasty. And I’m a BIG Hardaway fan.

  • yo


  • Ian

    kj easyyyyyy
    and sorry prof tx but that is my fav dunk ever.

  • Ian

    btw i remember hardaway sayin the deserved roy what a joke.

  • mellmeister

    If i’m going to choose on who’s going to run my team? I’ll Choose Tim Hardaway to run it for me. No Doubt… fun to watch… :) and can open up space for the rest of the team. :)

    Good Argument for Ben York… Bravo!!!

  • sh!tfaced

    Timmeeeehhhhh… Hands down!

    Because crossover will forever be attached to Tim Hardaway. What is Kevin Johnson attached to? Mayor? And in his basketball career? Ahh. Have to get back to you on that one.

    I remember Timmy was more clutch and was as dangerous as they come with the clock winding down. He also made numerous unbelievable shots from everywhere.

    While I recall KJ doing disappearing acts when the pressure was on – especially during the ’93 finals vs the Bulls despite logging monster minutes.

    When you see Suns playoffs history highlights, you hear Thunder Dan, Rex Chapman, Barkley, Kidd, Nash and even Marbury making winning plays but you never hear Kevin Johnson. Just that dunk over Hakeem, nothing else.

  • JA

    I always loved the PGs with the insane FG%’s.

    Gotta give the slight nod to KJ

  • Ekstor

    Truly a tough one… anyone who says Timmy had a more complete game never watched KJ. While KJ wasn’t a 3pt bomber, his jumper was smooth out to about 20ft and he could stop on a dime to pull it (and he’d nail it consistently).

    Timmy was streaky. I think he still holds the record for most misses in a game without a make (0 for 17)… KJ was consistent.

    Both were cat-quick off the dribble and terrific going to the rack. Timmy was stronger and could use his strength to get his shot off in traffic. KJ used his speed and length.

    KJ was a better assist-man… in his prime and when healthy, he was a perennial 20/10 player.

    Overall, in terms of career achievements, I’d go with Timmy… but if comparing the two players healthy and in their prime, I’d probably choose KJ… by a hair.

  • Scoty

    Timmy, hands down. What’s not even mentioned in that article is that he totally transformed his game in Miami. His knees were totally shot by then, blew his ACL. He didn’t have near the same quickness he did when he was with the Warriors, but he still managed to not only be an All Star with the Heat, but even first team All NBA one year and if I remember correctly 3rd in the MVP voting.

  • Taj

    Timmy had sick handles, could stop on a dime and drop a deep three in your eye. But I have to go with KJ!! Dude could flat out ball for his size!!

  • BiG ShoT BoB

    I’m going with Tim just because he played for my Warriors and was the T in Run TMC enough said.

  • http://NBA.COM Only Built 4 Costume Jewelry

    Jordan vs Kobe
    Bird vs Dirk
    Magic vs Kidd
    Wilkins vs Carter
    Pippen vs McGrady

  • MSkittle

    You guys forgot to mentioned Hardaway’s clutch shots in the playoffs.. And of course, he should have his number retired!!

    As for who is better, this one is too tough to call.

  • ctkennedy

    they both can get where they want but kj is a better finisher around rim its like comparin tony parker and jamal crawford they both get to where they want on the court but parker is a better finisher

  • the cynic

    this is tough question. Hardaway had a better career, but I would probably want KJ on my team instead. I can’t really give a good reason; I just remember at there peaks I thought KJ was a better players

  • flegman

    KJ had same dunk on Hot Rod Williams.
    But man, 20 ppg, 12+ apg, and 22 ppg 11.4 apg seasons?!?! On 50% shooting?! You can’t beat it with any killer crossover.

  • champy

    people r talking about KJ being injured….but tim hardaway battled knee injuries his last yr at golden state and with teh miami heat……Tim hardaway all day

  • http://uoregon.edu sans

    KJ…so good at penetrating and creating. Hardaway, as much as I respect his game, settled for a lot of jumpers later in his career.

  • Josh Tha roc

    this is a tie. both awesome.

  • Josh Tha roc

    one memory that springs to mind was KJ playing 58 minutes ,or something ridiculous like that, in that triple ot game in the Finals game vs bulls

  • DaGood

    both would have been totally unguardable with today’s no -hand-checking rules!

  • Steve

    Hardaway wins because KJ wasn’t durable. In a one off pick up game though with both healthy I pick KJ.

  • doc

    He lost the argument by bringing up that Hakeem dunk.One play brother one play.Then you tell me to look at that play and it shows me better leadership?Naw dog.KJ was a montser in his own right and they’re probaly pretty even but Im taking Tim on my squad.

  • doc

    And please with the Parker bs he isnt better than either one of them.

  • Ian

    i know the love u have for parker but parker will be light years ahead of both when its over. are any of them top 10 pgs ever?? parker will be on the list 3 titles and finals mvp over a hakeem dunk and a killer crossover anyday.

  • hb in az

    KJ all day………………!

  • http://shootingbasketballtips.blogspot.com/ Dodge Taylor

    I like KJ and yes he could play … but Timmy ALL day every day. No mention of Timmy’s clutchness, no mention of his post-season heroics?

    And as for the “if KJ wasn’t hampered by injury” debate, Timmy suffered badly too otherwise he would’ve put up even better numbers and would have got a LOT more respect than he currently does.

  • Ravi

    KJ has the better career ppg, apg, TS%, eFG%, PER, AST%, TRB%, ORtng, DRtng, and win shares. There is absolutely no argument for suggesting that Timmy Hardaway was better than KJ

  • Amos


  • nevacare

    The dunk on Olajuwon was over hyped the Rockets were way up & Olajuwon didn’t want to foul out. He suprised Olajuwon more than anything & the Suns lost the game by double digits. That being said KJ doesn’t really get his just do. He was unstoppable but too soft at the same time. I’ll take Timmy because he was tougher not necessarily that much better but way tougher