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Tim Hardaway Jr. looks to parlay a career year into the playoff bubble

The Mavericks’ guard will try to hit the ground running when play resumes in Orlando.

New Orleans Pelicans v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

In his first full season in Dallas, Tim Hardaway Jr. was a revelation. In 63 games the six-year professional recorded 15.8 points, three rebounds and two assists in nearly 29 minutes per game while shooting a career-best 41 percent from deep.

Rick Carlise spent 14 games shuffling the starting lineup before throwing Hardaway into the mix, and he and the Mavericks never looked back. After inserting the guard into the starting backcourt the Mavericks rattled off consecutive 140 point games and Hardaway upped his game going from 10 points to 17 points per game while ballooning his three-point percentage from 29 to 43 percent.

Where were they before the break?

It’s clear Hardaway was having a career season, but he somehow turned it up a notch after the All-Star break. In the 11 games after the festivities, the shooting guard pumped in 21 points while shooting 42 percent from deep in 35 minutes per game. Compared to 15 points and 40 percent from three in 27 minutes per game, Hardaway was reaching a new stratosphere before Adam Silver paused the season.

It’s hard to contextualize just how much of a weapon Hardaway was in his first full season in Dallas, but hovering around his three-point metrics is a good place to start. For the season he was a top-20 three-point shooter, which is fantastic in its own right. But Hardaway’s ability to connect on sky-high volume (13th most attempts) catapulted Dallas’ offense into another dimension. For all players who hoisted 400 or more attempts, Hardaway cashed in on the sixth best rate.

Key stat(s) to know

Digging into the shooting numbers more reveals Hardaway made a blistering 52 percent of his right-corner threes, according to NBA.com/stats. And he was no slouch from the left corner either where he shot 41 percent.

In an offense predicated on Luka Doncic drive and dishes, Hardaway’s tendency to act as a release valve in the corners prevented defenses from sucking into the paint. It also gave Doncic and Porzingis space to work the two-man game without defenses cheating on the help side.

Outlook in Orlando

After a four-month layoff, the Mavericks are essentially starting a new micro-season, and the threat of Hardaway regressing to the mean is a strong possibility. As a career 34 percent three-point shooter relying on high volume to fill the stat sheet, his career-season couldn’t come at a better time for Dallas. After all, he’s a big reason why the Mavericks have the sixth-best plus-minus in the entire NBA.

Hardaway’s success as a scorer can be slightly contributed to Doncic’s playmaking prowess, so it would be surprising to see his numbers nose dive. But with that comes the added pressure to deliver when playoff defenses key in on the Mavericks superstar.

His last playoff appearance came as a 24-year-old when the Atlanta Hawks fell to the Washington Wizards in six games in the 2016-17 playoffs. All things considered he’s a playoff veteran for the untested Mavericks. So when the spacing gets tighter and the possessions more valuable, Dallas will crave Hardaway’s shot making and occasional creation. Aside from Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, he possesses a rare skill the other Mavericks lack, attacking closeouts strong.

As Jordan Brodress wrote earlier, Hardaway’s play is the biggest question mark for the Mavericks in Orlando. Should he pick up where he left off, the Mavericks could make noise. But if his play falters out of the gate, Dallas will need a big lift from players not named Luka or Kristaps.