Statistical Analysis. Humor. Knicks.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Finding comps for Tim Hardaway Jr.

Not unlike the passenger in Airplane who happens upon a pamphlet of “Famous Jewish Sports Legends,” the silver linings of this cesspool of a 2013-2014 Knicks season make for some light reading.

Among them: Carmelo Anthony’s 62-point game, Amar’e Stoudemire’s relatively healthy and very productive offensive season, and the emergence of Tim Hardaway Jr.

Hardaway, a late first round pick, has quickly become a dynamic scorer. His remarkable athleticism and body control have allowed him to attack off the dribble and convert two-thirds of his shots at the rim. He is already an excellent shooter — 38 percent from three-point range this year. And despite developing a reputation for his Earl-like, never-met-a-shot-he-doesn’t-like tendency, THJR is a good example of the modern-day efficient NBA player — 75 percent of his shots either come from 3 or at the rim.

As the front office is just beginning to find out, rookies often improve, and good news-deprived Knicks fans have been daydreaming all season about how the cost-controlled, 22-year old will develop. So, using some statistical parameters, I decided to see if we could find a range of similar players to Hardaway to see how he might develop.

To try to find a list of comparable players — for sabermetrically-inclined baseball fans, this post is inspired by similar exercises at FanGraphs — I used the excellent Basketball-Reference.com Player Season Finder tool. I set the statistical criteria thusly:

Year range: 1979-1980 season-present (3-point era)

Position: Guards, Guards-Forwards and Forwards-Guards

Only rookie seasons included

True-shooting percentage: 53% or better

Usage rate: 17% or higher

Assist percentage: 20% or lower

Minutes played: 1000 or more

To explain the stat criteria quickly, I was looking to find players in rookie seasons that I had put up similar stats to Hardaway this year. They had to be good and efficient scorers (high TS%). They had to have a similarly active level of involvement in the offense (USG%). They had to have low assist numbers like Hardaway (AST%, which was also a convenient way to get rid of most point guards, who aren’t good matches for him). And they had to have played a statistically significant number of minutes.

Here is the chart. 49 players in their rookie seasons matched the criteria.

Among them, Hardaway ranks 27th in Win Shares/48, meaning he is pretty solidly in the middle of the pack of this group. He ranks 36th in terms of PER, but that’s a statistic that likely underrates Hardaway because of his low rebounding rate.

The first thing that jumps out is that, while this group is mixed … it’s pretty darn good. If nothing else, it shows that Hardaway has had a nice year and could develop into a solid rotation player or more. Even the mid-tier guys in this group include players like Eddie Jones, DeMar DeRozen, Leandro Barbosa, Latrell Sprewell, and others. Sure, there are some marginal and poor players that serve as a reminder that THJR is not guaranteed a long, productive career. But in general, some real talent emerged from this group.

The second thing that jumps out is how one-dimensional THJR is right now — he is a scorer and not much else. Hardaway ranks bottom-five in the group in Defensive Win Share rate, a finding that fits the eye test of a player that badly struggles with basic rotations. He is fourth-to-last in assist rate (5.7). He is tied for last in rebounding rate (3.9%). Before cutting him some slack and saying he is a rookie guard, remember that this entire sample is made up of rookie guards. For him to reach the potential of many of these players, he will need to develop these secondary skills.

I’d recommend taking a look and seeing which comps you think make the most sense, but I thought I would include a few that stood out to me. Pushing past the outliers like Kobe Bryant, James Harden, Chris Mullin, Reggie Miller, and Mitch Richmond (BUT HOW FUN IS THAT LIST?!), let’s have a look at some players who seem particularly close to THJR.

1.    Cautionary Tales

There isn’t necessarily a great match in this group, which is a good sign. But it is a reminder that improvement rates aren’t necessarily linear — certain players peak early and at different times (the guy with Landry Fields’s Knicks jersey nods his head sadly) and a good rookie season doesn’t necessarily imply an upwards-trending career.

Examples: Marquis Daniels (20.1 PER in his rookie year!), Salim Stoudamire, Rashad McCants (not a great example since he derived most his value on defense, but still), Jerry Eaves, Eric Piatwowski (not nearly the athlete THJR is), Anthony Morrow.

2.    A Fellow Young Gunner

I’m seeing a lot of Klay Thompson here. Thompson has the slight edge in PER, Hardaway the upper hand in WS/48. Neither guy defends or rebounds much. Both are excellent shooters, both from the line and from three, and shoot a fairly high volume from three (Thompson less than Hardaway, but I wouldn’t count out how just two years have had a remarkable impact on NBA offenses prioritizing the 3-point shot during that time). Thompson has a much higher assist rate, but Hardaway is more athletic and gets value by attacking the rim. I personally think Thompson is overrated — a defensive liability and a very good shooter off the catch who accordingly derives a lot of value playing off the greatest shooter in the world, Steph Curry. But he is still a good player (and himself still developing), and I think provides a good parallel for a possible path for Hardaway.

3.    Intriguing parallels

—   Cuttino Mobley. A very good statistical parallel. Very good shooter, solid rotation player, similar per-36 numbers.

—   Leandro Barbosa. Similar penchant for attacking the rim, better passer, not as powerful.

—   Anthony Peeler. Streaky shooter, inconsistent from year-to-year.

—   Eric Gordon. A more talented player than THJR at the outset of his career, but has really struggled with injuries (and maybe not the best attitude). Excellent offensive player, scorer at will, poor defender.

4.    Optimistic, But Reasonable

And here, I think, is for whom reasonable Knicks fans should be rooting: Michael Finley.

When Knicks fans bemoan Hardaway for being a one-dimensional scorer, what they really want is for him to be more like Finley. While not an elite defender, Finley was very solid on the perimeter and not a defensive liability (for those seeing an Eddie Jones/THJR parallel, I thought about it, but Jones was an exceptional defender with incredibly long arms. I don’t think THJR could close such a large gap on defense). Finley became a very good shooter and served as the 2nd-4th offensive options, depending on his team, due to his shooting and attacking abilities. He was a great passer with excellent court vision.

Finley was never a superstar, but he was a 2-time All-Star, an NBA champion with the San Antonio Spurs in 2007, and a crucially important starter on some very good Dallas Mavericks and Spurs teams. He played 15 seasons in the league.

When Knicks fans see Hardaway, they are really hoping he can be like Finley — a two-way player who derives most of his value on offense, a guy who can be a starter and scorer on playoff teams and maybe snag an All-Star appearance or two if we’re being greedy, a very skilled offensive player, and a competitor who will work to improve on court vision and defense.

60 comments on “Finding comps for Tim Hardaway Jr.

  1. Nick C.

    Neat idea. Morrow jumped to mind and is there. I might have, if possible tried to filter FTA/36 and 3ptA/36. Reb would eliminate the Fs. I am surprised Allan Houston wasn’t there.

  2. flossy

    Nice piece. What about Allan Houston? Never much of a defender, but a solid starter and major scoring threat throughout his career. Timbo Slice is light years ahead of Houston’s rookie year, and basically on par with his 2nd season (when Houston was 23, for what it’s worth).

    As long as we don’t give him a $100 million contract, I’d be thrilled if Hardaway turned into an Allan Houston type player (particularly since that sentence probably sent chills down the spine of Tim Hardaway Sr.).

  3. flossy

    I am surprised Allan Houston wasn’t there.

    Jinx! Allan Houston was horrible his rookie season, that’s probably why.

  4. Jonathan Topaz Post author

    Thanks guys.
    Yep, Houston makes some sense to me, too. He had an awful rookie year, as Flossy noted, but quite a sophomore campaign (42% from 3, 2o pts/36, 3.5 offensive win shares). Houston’s assist percentage, even from his rookie year, is still 2-3 times higher than Hardaway’s, so it’s still important to note how low that is for the rookie. I think Houston would be an optimistic projection, but reasonably possible.

  5. DRed

    Timmy doesn’t pass and doesn’t rebound, but looking at some of the rookies on the list who couldn’t do one or the other, it looks like it’s more likely that Timmy learns to pass the ball than he discovers a talent for rebounding.

  6. BigBlueAL

    I said it a few weeks ago that TH Jr reminds me of a more athletic Hubert Davis.

    Hubert didnt have a good rookie season (he did hit a big 3pter in Game 2 vs the Hornets to send the game into OT which the Knicks won though). In his next 3 seasons his TS% were 56, 61 and 63%. Once he left NY though he was never as good a player though he did play another 8 seasons in the NBA and finished his career as a 44% 3pt shooter.

    I dont see too much Allan Houston in TH Jr because Houston was actually a pretty big, physical SG. He was a very good post-up player and became a pretty good one-on-one player (probably played too much ISO ball for his own good).

  7. lavor postell

    What are the ratings for the lineups with THJ and Shump? It’s amazing how much better our team looks when we are getting solid production from all of our wings. This is one of the more bizarre seasons I can remember as a Knick fan because of how good this team has looked on certain nights, usually when the production from perimeter players is there. Another big to backup STAT and Chandler and a point guard that can penetrate and hit the three at even a league average rate would do wonders for this team.

  8. max fisher-cohen

    Klay and Peeler make the most sense to me as higher and lower end hopes. Hardaway played three years at college, so it’s unlikely he takes a huge leap. Finley was a great defender. I don’t see Hardaway ever getting to that level.

  9. lavor postell

    Hardaway during this winning streak seems to play better with Shump since they basically are good at what the other sucks at. Hardaway can flat out score and finish in transition, while Shump when he’s not forcing is a good play maker with decent vision and crashes the boards well. Defensively there have actually been a few times that I’ve noticed Shump letting THJ know where to be on his rotations. I don’t think think THJ will be a great defender, but if he can rotate properly that would be enough if he can score at this clip and develop his passing a little bit.

  10. nicos

    I wonder what THJ’s numbers would look like if he played on a team that actually pushed the ball every once in awhile- he’s the best transition player the Knicks have had in many years. And it’s worth noting that he has the lowest turnover rate among those guys (of course it’s at least in part because he never passes the ball) which means his points per possession numbers are actually better than a lot of guys with better TS%s. He’s 20th on the list in offensive win shares which considering some of the names on the list is pretty good both for his age (all of the guys in front of him besides Ray Allen, also 21, and Eric Gordon, 20, were 22 or older) and his draft position in a historically bad draft. Right now given his complete one-dimensionality I’d say he’s much more likely to win a 6th man of the year award than make an all-star team as he’s probably best suited to be a pure gunner off of the bench but who knows?

  11. yellowboy90

    I still see a lot of Courtney Lee in Hardaway Jr. Lee had a usg at 15.5 and 55.6 TS%, 5.2 trb%, and 7.6 ast%

  12. d-mar

    @10 regarding communicating, it’s interesting how 2/3 of the way into the season the team has decided to actually start talking on defense. I was astounded at the level of chatter during that Bucks game, but also pissed that they waited until now to figure that out.

  13. mokers

    I think Thompson is a good comp. When he was a rookie, the thing most people talked about was great shooting form and athleticism. Klay may not have the best instincts, but Jackson has basically had him guarding the opposing teams’ best guard. Having Iggy on the team has changed that somewhat, but I think with that athleticism you can teach defense. Part of the big reasons the Knicks should be looking at another coach is that there may be some chance to salvage some development out of the young players.

  14. Garson

    Thunder Dan Majerle is my comp.

    I have no stats to back it, just off pure memory.

    I recall Dan being a solid inside,outside scorer with some major dunking ability.

  15. Donnie Walsh

    Obviously THjr is the second coming of TDDWTDD. Why? Because he’s in the list and #lolknicks. That’s why.

  16. lavor postell

    I seriously want to know what happened prior to that Minnesota game for such a drastic shift to have taken place. The ball is moving on offense and we are running it very effectively through Melo and STAT in the post and both of them are passing the ball for kick out looks on doubles, THJ broke out of his shooting slump, Shump is actually a factor on both sides of the ball, JR is only taking good shots, Felton is playing at an acceptable level, the entire team is talking and trying on defense etc. Also I understand most of these teams have come against bad teams, but most of them have been blowouts signed, sealed and delivered more than halfway through the final period, excluding the T’Wolves and Cavs games which were solid road wins for a team in our position.

  17. DRed

    No one’s going to mention TH Sr. as a possible comp?

    Nah, his Dad passed the basketball and was very different physically.

  18. Hubert

    I seriously want to know what happened prior to that Minnesota game for such a drastic shift to have taken place.

    There was a Knickerblogger meet up at The Village Pourhouse. Duh.

  19. Owen

    I seriously want to know what happened prior to that Minnesota game for such a drastic shift to have taken place.

    There was a Knickerblogger meet up at The Village Pourhouse. Duh.

    Yes!!! We finally managed to undo all the damage Cronin has done….

  20. Owen

    Regarding TH Jr., I am still skeptical that his ceiling is anything more than a decent bench scorer type. That has value certainly, but I will resolutely cautious about his long term prospects until I see him do anything on the court involving defense and passing.

  21. Brian Cronin

    I think it is very fair to be skeptical of THJ, but I think he’s a similar player to Houston. We just have to hope he develops a game like Houston’s as he goes along (only, of course, since this is the 21st century, he’ll be shooting more threes that Houston did in his career – only twice in his career did he average more than five threes a game – and just once as a Knick. Do we all realize how insane it is that Allan freakin’ Houston averaged less than 3.2 threes a game from 1997 to 2001?!? Oh, JVG, if only you were into advanced stats sooner).

  22. Brian Cronin

    It is crazy how important tonight’s Atlanta @ Charlotte game is. The Knicks really, really need a Charlotte win.

  23. d-mar

    Well, Charlotte should be very motivated the rest of the season, they’re only 1 1/2 games behind Brooklyn for the 6th seed in the East.

  24. d-mar

    BTW, the Spurs are truly a marvel of professional sports. They’ve quietly compiled the best record in the NBA with no MVP candidates, and with Pop managing to rest his starters significant minutes (Parker has the highest minutes per game with 30.3)

    Personally, I’m pulling for them to win it all.

  25. Brian Cronin

    Yeah, you have to appreciate the Spurs. Can they survive Duncan’s retirement, though?

  26. lavor postell

    Dude they have a second big 3 coming up in Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter. Of those three Leonard is the only one that should ever be referred too as being part of a “Big 3″.

  27. Brian Cronin

    A quick look seems to indicate that they can spend roughly Duncan’s contract this offseason if Duncan retires. I doubt Duncan retires this year, though. I bet he gives them one more year, especially since pretty much everyone comes off of their cap in 2016 so he would allow them to rebuild in 2016 around Parker, Leonard and Splitter (the latter two are the only Spurs other than Cory Joseph under contract in 2016 and Parker is the only one of Duncan/Parker/Ginoboli who will likely be playing in the NBA past his current deal).

  28. lavor postell

    The better question is if Popovich stays on to coach after Duncan retires. He’s said before that when Duncan calls it quits he will as well. If Popovich stays on and Buford is still running the front office I’m sure they’ll figure out a way to remain a competitive team.

  29. Frank

    I think I see Barbosa from the SSOL Suns more than I see Houston for THJ. Great in transition, dangerous from behind the arc, no defense. Hopefully Barbosa is a floor for THJ rather than his ceiling or best comp by the end of his career.

  30. lavor postell

    Seriously is Steve Clifford fucking high? Put in guys that can shoot the ball. Defend Korver and Millsap. Holy shit this third quarter has been absolutely atrocious.

  31. DRed

    The way the Pacers have been playing lately I’m going to be a bit surprised if we don’t beat them. There. I said it.

    #takethatcronin

  32. Brian Cronin

    I dunno about the Knicks’ chances on Wednesday night. They don’t have Bargs, their Indy-stopper, this time around.

  33. DRed

    The East is bad man. None of these teams can reasonably be expected to beat anyone outside of Philly and maybe the Bucks. Charlotte’s 33-34 in this trainwreck of a conference. They suck. Now, the Hawks also suck. But sometimes you get outsucked and sometimes you’re the outsucker. Tonight Charlotte really sucked.

    I mean, Cody Zeller. Did anyone in America not in the Zeller family and not in the Bobcats office think that pick was going to work? And my ace B squared got only 8 minutes tonight?! wtf indeed.

  34. danielbubbs1

    hawks win, in a game they were “supposed” to lose…. hey, the knicks could win out (theoretically) and still not make it, as Hawks have more home games and winnable games and are playing well.

  35. danielbubbs1

    The East is bad man

    certainly pretty bad, but it’s actually gonna turn out as it’s been for the last 15 years, with the bottom of the playoff teams around 39-41 wins, the middle group 45-48 wins, with a couple of real contenders. It looked worse in the beginning of the season, nothing unusual as it’s going to turn out.

  36. Frank

    at this point Charlotte and Atlanta are equally as far from us — both up 5 games in the loss column. Charlotte has a few wins in hand, but have a very difficult schedule going forward–

    they could easily lose their next 4 — BKN, POR, HOU, BKN

    then they don’t have a particularly easy rest of schedule – ORL, WAS, PHI, ORL, CLE, WAS, BOS, PHI, ATL, CHI

    They could easily go 5-9 the rest of those games. But let’s give them 6-8. Would mean we’d have to go something like 13-2 or 12-3 the rest of the way depending on how the tiebreaker works out. Overall I think 39 or 40 wins gets it done. Tall order.

  37. BigBlueAL

    Yeah, I was about to mention now that the Bobcats have same amount of losses as the Hawks maybe they can collapse instead??

  38. Totes McGoats

    Very good stuff. Makes me ever so anxious to see the next step of THJ’s development. I knew he had some serious skill on offense, but I had no idea he’d play this well this soon. However, I am concerned with his one dimensionality..but not too concerned. I mean..he did sacrifice his game once Michigan did get more offensive weapons. And he does have enough athleticism and hoop IQ to improve on defense. So some versatility is there. Plus he has his dad’s genes so improvement is imminent. He may very well become a Finley. Maybe even an Allan Houston. I wouldn’t mind either. Right now his game is more athletic H20 than anything, but those comparisons on the chart are very encouraging even if he doesn’t even get to H20′s level. The fact that Spree is on that chart is quite surprising because we all know what type of player he turned out to be. If he can be half of what Spree was as a Knick I’d be very happy.

  39. BigBlueAL

    I was surprised to see Spree’s name. I LOVED Spree as a Knick but if you look at his stats he was not very good offensively at all. In his Knicks career his TS% was 50%!! He was an excellent defender and decent passer and wouldve benefited alot more if the Knicks ran more. Still loved him though.

  40. Brian Cronin

    Yeah, the games played is what kills the Knicks against Charlotte. Atlanta was a realistic goal because they had three more games on the Knicks where they had more opportunities to lose games. The Bobcats have less games left than the Knicks and have that five game lead. Plus, for the tiebreaker, currently the Bobcats have the tiebreaker with a 21-19 conference record while the Knicks have a 19-23 conference record. The Knicks have 10 conference games left and the Bobcats have 12. Hard to make up a four game lead in that few games, which means that the Knicks might need to just outright pass them to beat them.

  41. Donnie Walsh

    Keep in mind that after this many games Landry Fields was being compared to John Halicek; Iman Shumpert was being compared to Latrell Sprewell; Tony Douglas was being compared to Eddie Jones; Mardy Collins was being compared to Mark Jackson; and David Lee was being compared to Moses Malone (or was it Kobe Bryant?)…

    Point is, Jesse Jaymes once pointed out that “we are the New York Knicks!” What he was really saying in that epic rap lyric was “we don’t develop our young players!” Sure, Hardaway might be the next Allan Houston, but let’s face it: if the Knicks had drafted Houston, he wouldn’t have been a Knick for very long. We like other teams players more than our own which isn’t that bad because, more often than not, our players aren’t very good.

    Hardaway is destined to be a footnote in Knick history. A young player who played well enough to be worth something in a trade.

  42. The Ghost of Ted Nelson

    So, yeah, uhm, what the fuck, Charlotte?

    Remember, Charlotte retains it’s 1st round pick if it falls into the top ten. At this point they are 5 up in the loss column over the Pistons/Cavs, which share the league’s 10th worst record.

    Just saying.

  43. Z

    I was surprised to see Spree’s name. I LOVED Spree as a Knick but if you look at his stats he was not very good offensively at all. In his Knicks career his TS% was 50%!! He was an excellent defender and decent passer and wouldve benefited alot more if the Knicks ran more.

    Sprewell was a different player his first few years in Golden State. He was one of the (many) players refered to as “Baby Jordan” at the time. He was an explosive offensive player.

    His shooting was terrible as a Knick, but his rookie year was, I think, his best shooting year (at least in 3pt shooting, if not TS%). Jonathan’s list only reflects rookie season stats, so I see the comparison. But I don’t think Hardaway’s career is going to follow a similar trajectory. (I’ve never seen him play, but like you said, Sprewell was a defender, and a rebounder, and a defacto PG at times, and from what has been written about Hardaway around here, he seems to be a polar opposite of the Sprewell we all knew and loved:)

  44. Z

    In fact, Hardaway’s rookie comps do make him look a lot like a worse rebounding, worse passing, worse shooting(!) version of Toney Douglas.

    So, yeah.

  45. Nick C.

    Out of curiosity I ran this. Out of computer ineptitude I can’t link it. Some solid players but just as many washouts if not more
    For single seasons; played in the NBA/BAA; in the regular season; from 1946-47 to 2013-14; in rookie season; requiring Minutes Per Game >= 15 and 3-Pt Field Goal Attempts Per 36 Minutes >= 5 and Free Throw Attempts Per 36 Minutes <= 3 and Rebounds Per Game <= 3 and Assists Per Game <= 1.7 × Games; sorted by descending True Shooting Pct.

    1 Brent Barry
    2 Wesley Person
    3 Rudy Fernandez
    4 Matt Maloney
    5 Gary Neal
    6 Toney Douglas lol
    7 Mike Penberthy who?
    8 Tim Hardaway
    9 Leandro Barbosa
    10 Chase Budinger
    11 Klay Thompson once again
    12 Juan Carlos Navarro
    13 Martell Webster
    14 J.R. Bremer who?
    15 Allan Ray
    16 Steve Blake
    17 Dana Barros
    18 Peja Stojakovic ceiling
    19 Jimmer Fredette ironic
    20 Tony Snell
    21 Jae Crowder
    22 Terrence Ross
    23 Daequan Cook
    24 Alexey Shved
    25 Yakhouba Diawara
    26 Justin Dentmon
    27 Xavier Silas

  46. Hubert

    He was one of the (many) players refered to as “Baby Jordan” at the time. He was an explosive offensive player.

    The only person I ever heard referred to as Baby Jordan was Harold Miner. Which I only mention because it’s funny that we referred to Harold Miner as Baby Jordan.

  47. Hubert

    And I don’t know if I’m good at this comp game (I think the best one I heard so far was whoever referred to him as a more athletic version of the guy who is my namesake, Hubert Davis), but I don’t see Hardaway ever becoming a legit NBA starter or even a 6th man. I think he’s a fringe rotation player. Potentially a very good one who you’d like to have on your team. He should stay in the league for 6-10 years.

    And hey, that’s a decent return for the 24th pick. They can’t all be home runs, a single is good, too.

  48. DRed

    And hey, that’s a decent return for the 24th pick. They can’t all be home runs, a single is good, too.

    Because Timmy has been so bad at everything but scoring, I don’t think he’s going to turn into the second coming of Reggie Miller. But he looks like he’ll be a useful NBA player, which is a lot better than I thought he’d be (I probably would have taken Nate Wolers if I’d been running the Knicks).

  49. The Ghost of Ted Nelson

    Hardaway has a lot in common with Rudy Fernandez. They were both #24 picks, they’re both 6’6″, and they both exhibited explosive scoring and streaky but solid outside shooting their rookie seasons.

    Fernandez’s shooting went downhill after his rookie season, and he didn’t last in the league past his rookie contract, though that is more because he was offered more money to play in Spain than because he wasn’t good enough to stay in the NBA. But he was never a high impact player in the league, outside of a few sparkling moments.

    All that said, though their scoring numbers were similar, Fernandez had a whole lot higher Assist% and reb% than Hardaway. That is what makes finding a comp for Hardaway so difficult. There is literally nobody else, rookie or not, to have ever put up a season with 1000 minutes with a +19% usage and have an assist rate below 6% and a rebound rate below 4%. As of now, he is the only player in the modern era.

    Hardaway is a hard player to find comps with because, frankly, there are none.

  50. The Ghost of Ted Nelson

    (And if the search parameters are relaxed (significantly) to include the closest season comps to what Hardaway is about to pull off the names are: Nick Young, Jodie Meeks, Jason Kapono, Anthony Morrow, and Johnny Newman)

  51. Nick C.

    I was looking for lots of 3s and little else on the box score and then they got sorted by TS%, which explains the “who’s hes” littering the 20s. Wesley Person seemed like a reasonable high end. Obviously all the lists are littered with jump shooting specialists.

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