The Dallas Mavericks are in an interesting place going forward. They are coming off of one of the most successful seasons in franchise history but there is concern regarding the future of the team. Luka Doncic prevents the future from being too bleak, but there are legitimate concerns regarding the roster that surrounds him.
Tim Hardaway Jr is both the source of some of those concerns and a potential answer to them. Hardaway Jr was incredibly successful in 2019-20 and 2020-21 but he reverted to some of the poor habits that plagued his career before the combination of Rick Carlisle and Doncic rejuvenated him.
During his two successful seasons in Dallas, Hardaway Jr averaged 16.2 points on discount Klay Thompson like shooting percentages of 44.1 percent from the field, 39.4 percent from three and 81.7 percent from the free throw line. These equated to a 58.5 true shooting percentage. Last season his true shooting percentage fell to 52.0 percent which is more in line with his New York Knicks Career (53.2 true shooting with the Knicks) then his time in Dallas.
Can Hardaway Jr fit into the defensive scheme the Mavericks found so much success with in the playoffs? The Mavericks need Hardaway’s shooting but he is neither a ball handler who can take some pressure off of Luka Doncic nor is he a wing defender who can help Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock on that end.
The Mavericks playoff success was based on Luka Doncic being surrounded by a team that played defense on a string. Finney-Smith, Bullock and Maxi Kleber are all legitimately very good defenders or better but even the less gifted defenders knew where to be. Jalen Brunson rotated well. Dwight Powell was scored over with ease at time, but he was still where he was supposed to be.
Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie were the only players who consistently made mistakes in rotation. Dinwiddie’s playmaking is even more important with the loss of Brunson, so the question becomes can Hardaway Jr learn the scheme and/or can Jason Kidd learn to live with it if he can’t?
Best Case Scenario
Hardaway finds the shooting touch of the two previous years. Hardaway is a gifted high volume shooter with size. He benefitted from the razor like precision of Rick Carlisle’s offense and he struggled with the freedom in Kidd’s offense. He has some shot creation ability that the team should tap, but in a best case scenario he is raining fire on open looks.
He also channels his willingness to play defense along with his athleticism into competence on that end. Hardaway is willing to take charges and legitimately tries on defense. He does not have athletic limitations that prevent him from ever being competent. He simply has bad instincts and makes poor rotations at times. Hopefully an off-season with Kidd and Sean Sweeney will fix this. If he can manage this while taking the right shots, an efficient 20 point per game season is not out of the question.
Worst Case Scenario
He tries to do too much offensively resulting in another inefficient campaign. He compounds this by failing to improve defensively. Kidd makes the decision to cut his minutes drastically and he ends up being a salary albatross for the third time in his career.
Shoot 40 percent from the three point line on eight attempts per game. The defense needs to be good enough to allow him to get enough minutes to get up eight threes per game, but his bread will always be buttered with his jumper.
Having Hardaway back will be a huge plus even if the defense suffers a little. Theo Pinson gets most of the credit for the Mavericks bench vibes during the playoffs but Hardaway was every bit as important for that. Having that positive energy coming from a player who could be as high as the second leading scorer on the team can only be helpful. With a successful season he could even become a trade asset with his declining contract, something the Mavericks are woefully short on.