When the Dallas Mavericks traded for Kristaps Porzingis in 2019, Tim Hardaway Jr. was attached to the deal. At the time, Mavericks fans considered Hardaway part of the price of acquiring Porzingis. He was a bit overpaid for his production with the Knicks and was basically an expiring contract in waiting.
But a year playing with Luka Doncic can change things. Hardaway posted career highs in both 3-point and effective field goal percentages last season, and suddenly, he went from a tax to a key contributor on a contender. Lighting it up from behind the arc will tend to change opinions among fans quickly.
Heading into a contract year, Hardaway has a chance to secure another big payday, whether from the Mavericks or another team that needs a 3-point specialist on the perimeter. Despite averaging only 1.9 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game last year, Hardaway has a skill that every contender needs, and the Mavericks are hoping it shines through this season.
Was Hardaway’s scorching hot shooting from deep last year a fluke?
Hardaway has shot slightly above league average from 3 for his career, but last season he set the hoop on fire. If he can shoot 39% or better from 3 again, the Mavericks offensive machine will keep humming, and the wins will stack up. Last season was Hardaway’s first full season with a playmaker the level of Doncic, and it showed. He was one of only six players to average 39% or better from behind the arc on at least seven attempts per game. There’s no reason to think Hardaway won’t have the same success going forward.
With the departure of Seth Curry, the Mavericks are counting on Hardaway’s shooting to remain consistent. Paired with Josh Richardson on the perimeter, Hardaway can help the Mavericks become a better defensive team without giving up too much of the shooting that made their offense the most efficient in NBA history. If his 3-point shooting falls to league average or below again, the Mavericks may encounter some spacing issues, making it harder for Doncic to operate in the paint.
Best Case Scenario
Tim Hardaway continues to be efficient from behind the arc and becomes slightly above average on defense.
Having spent a whole season in Rick Carlisle’s offense, Hardaway knows his role and where to be so that he’s on the receiving end of passes from Doncic that lead to easy buckets. Hardaway won’t be thinking about where he’s supposed to be or where the play is headed next. He’ll just get to his spots and let the ball fly. If he can make defenses concerned about his shooting, it makes life on the court much easier for Doncic and Porzingis.
Hardaway has never been a lockdown defender. Many times last year he was tasked with playing up a position on defense, guarding guys bigger than him, which led to some undesirable outcomes, to say the least. Hopefully this season, with the addition of Richardson and James Johnson to go along with Dorian Finney-Smith, Hardaway should only be tasked with defending guards, which could improve his efficiency on the defensive end. If so, he’ll become that elusive piece every contender is searching for—a 3-and-D perimeter player.
Worst Case Scenario
Tim Hardaway’s shot doesn’t fall, and he becomes disinterested in defense while the Mavericks’ offense stagnates.
It’s possible last season was just a career high for Hardaway, and his 3-point shooting regresses back to his career average. Defenses will be able to focus on Doncic and disrupt his drives in the paint, which could sow chaos into Carlisle’s beautiful system. Make no mistake, Doncic is the engine that drives the Mavericks’ offense, but even he needs a little help. If Hardaway is struggling from deep, it’s one less outlet Doncic has to pass out to when the defense collapses.
Then there’s the defensive end, which has never been Hardaway’s strength in the first place. A large part of success on defense is effort, and Hardaway wouldn’t be the first basketball player to give less than one hundred percent on the other end of the floor when their shot isn’t falling. If he’s failing to stretch the floor and not going all out on the defensive end, Carlisle will have no problem nailing him to the bench in favor of other options. While it wouldn’t be catastrophic for the Mavericks’ success this season, Hardaway struggling would make things tougher for them in an already stacked Western conference.