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Tim Hardaway Jr.’s game still has more questions than answers

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Hardaway was a mixed bag, but his role could be changing for everyone’s benefit.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks acquired Tim Hardaway Jr.’s services in a blockbuster Kristaps Porzingis trade, and he was a plug-in starter because the Mavericks shipped off 80 percent of it’s starting lineup by midseason. It’s worth noting that the Knicks were licking their chops trying to get off Hardaway’s colossal contract, so he was largely the tax the Mavericks had to pay to swing the deal for Porzingis. However, Hardaway’s arrival was one of relative - if not misguided - excitement because he represented an athletic and dynamic (theoretical) shot creator.

Looking back

Hardaway’s season was a metaphorical roller coaster. One game he was an efficient scorer proving to be dynamic with and without the ball. The next game he was a tireless gunner with a poor shot selection who couldn’t impact the game when his shot wasn’t falling.

Hardaway also suffered from a dip in efficiency after the trade. In 46 games with the Knicks, the 27-year-old played 33 minutes per night and scored 19 points on 39 percent from the field and 35 percent from deep. He chipped in 2.7 assists, 3.5 rebounds and five free throw attempts per game. In 19 games with the Mavericks, he played 29 minutes per night and scored 15.5 points on 40 percent from the field and only 32 percent from deep. His assists and rebounding dipped to two dimes and three boards per night, and his free throw attempts plummeted to only 2.3 trips per game.

Hardaway’s season was cut short due to a stress reaction in his left leg. Ominously, the guard was slowed by the same injury last season when he played only 57 games. Dallas opted for Hardaway to have surgery on April 18, and all reports indicate he’ll be ready for training camp.

Even with his warts, Hardaway was a breath of fresh air. He is a fluid athlete capable of making plays off the dribble that Mavericks’ guards and wings of past simply couldn’t make. He moved the ball and played within the flow of the offense (he was just an inaccurate shooter). There’s something to be said about a player who prevents the ball from sticking every time he touches it.

Contract status

Next season Hardaway will earn a base salary of $18 million and will count $20 million against the cap. He has an $18.9 million player option for the 2020-21 season, so it’s highly probable he’ll play the next two seasons with the Mavericks.

Looking forward

Like Wesley Matthews for the majority of his Mavericks tenure, Hardaway was widely miscast playing the second option behind Luka Doncic during the second half of the season. His 14 field goal attempts per night were the second most behind the Rookie of the Year favorite, but the Mavericks simply had no other options. If Dallas has it’s way this offseason, Hardaway will be a fourth option or serve the role as a sixth man scorer.

For simplicity we’ll ignore any possible free agency acquisitions, but if Doncic’s play reaches another stratosphere and Porzingis returns to pre-injury form, Hardaway will have the opportunity to change the narrative surrounding his game. He won’t need to hoist seven three-point attempts per game or shoot any shot-clock beating bail out jumpers. He’ll be able to settle into a tertiary or reserve role and let the game come to him.