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Tim Hardaway Jr. can grow and play a vital role with the Mavericks

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The five year pro arrives in Dallas with opportunity to play a flexible role.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Hardaway Jr., the soon-to-be 27 year old 24th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, comes to the Dallas Mavericks from the Knicks after a somewhat odd five and a half season path through the league. Spending his first two seasons in New York in a reserve role, Hardaway was then traded to the Atlanta Hawks (for the draft rights of Jerian Grant). There he showed flashes of potential, but also had to battle for playing time and was mostly a reserve, while also spending some time in the G-League.

Then as a restricted free agent THJ signed an offer-sheet with the, you guessed it, New York Knicks — a four-year $71 million deal with a built in 15-percent trade kicker. The Atlanta Hawks balked at the deal, and Hardaway was back where he began. The Knicks paid big money for the shooting guard they had drafted just four years previous. In his return to New York he averaged 18 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists, in 33 minutes per game (100 out of the 103 games as a starter). He shot 33 percent from three in that time.

It’s important to know what Dallas has in THJ, as he could be around for the next 2.5 seasons. He joins the Mavericks finishing up the second year on this contract: due $20 million next season (with the addition of the trade kicker), then has a player option on the final season of the deal. Should he pick up the option (a likely scenario at this point) he’ll be due somewhere around $21.8 million for the 2020-21 season.

As a special note: with the addition of Tim Hardaway Jr., Dirk Nowitzki becomes the fourth player in NBA history to have father-son teammates. He played with Tim Hardaway Sr. for a brief time in the 2001 season. In response to that bit of trivia postgame Thursday night in Detroit, the always self-deprecating Nowitzki remarked, “That’s kind of sad”.

Strengths

We’ll mark this under strengths, because recently it’s what Hardaway has done best, but take the analytics how you will that a large portion of his production offensively has come off the dribble and in the midrange, where 42 percent of his field goal attempts have come from pull-ups this season. To his credit he’s connecting on 38 percent of his three point attempts off pull-ups this year.

Working off the dribble is fine when you’re on a team like the Knicks, who were without their best player and begging for playmaking. But for Dallas, they’ll hope Hardaway can go back to his style and success in Atlanta, where the majority of his shot attempts were catch-and-shoot (he was connecting on 36 percent of his three point catch-and-shoot shot attempts). If there is a plan for Hardaway to join the starting lineup, they’ll need him to be prepared to play off Doncic distributing.

But a luxury the Mavericks might have with Hardaway is knowing he is capable of being the gunner, playmaking or scoring off the dribble. And that’s why there could be an intriguing role for Hardaway this (or next) season as a sixth man type playmaker off the bench. Carlisle’s mix and match veteran bench crew the last few years have been known for their crisp ball movement, so this would be a transition. And perhaps a transition Carlisle doesn’t find appetizing. If anything, it’s just an option to have.

Weaknesses

For starters THJ isn’t a great defender. He isn’t going to be Dallas’ three-and-D wing (that’ll fall to Dorian Finney-Smith, and perhaps for a time Courtney Lee). Carlisle does a solid job of finding solid matchups, or hiding weak spots, and optimizing team defense. This season is a good example, where they don’t have a ton of elite solo defenders, but they’ve managed to be a solid defense once they got their legs under them.

On offense, the concern would be what’s mentioned above — that THJ will turn in to a ball-stopper, or only be able to connect off the dribble, similar to another high paid wing in the starting lineup. What is clear is that the Mavericks of the future will thrive if Doncic is playmaking and they get back to complimentary pieces to that either taking the open shot or keeping ball whipping around the perimeter. What Hardaway will have the benefit of that he’s never had before, is getting passes from Doncic.

As an example, last season Barnes was taking 26 percent of his attempts as catch and shoot, compared to 33 percent of his attempts off pull-ups. Add to that 21 percent of his threes being catch-and-shoot where he made 35 percent. Now this season, 37 percent of Barnes’ attempts are catch-and-shoot (23 percent are pull-ups), and 34 percent of his threes are catch-and-shoot attempts, where he’s connecting on 39 percent. That’s a lot of numbers to say, Doncic having the ball in his hands can lessen teammates’ weaknesses, and put them in a position to succeed. Hardaway should get that chance.

Fit on the Mavericks

Much of this is discussed above. I’d like to see Carlisle experiment with Hardaway both as a starter and as a bench spark-plug playmaker. The rest of this season really needs to be an incubator for young guys to get time, and for Carlisle to tinker with lineups. It would be interesting to see if Lee and Hardaway could both play alongside Doncic, while Barnes moves to power forward.

Ideally Hardaway slips in to Wesley Matthews’ role. But as of now Hardaway hasn’t been playing that offensive role. This season Matthews was taking a large portion of shot attempts straight off a pass. And for all his faults recently, Matthews was still connecting on 41 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes, something Hardaway has never touched. There’s room for Hardaway to grow, and the opportunity should be there for him to play a vital role in Dallas the next few seasons.