Jaden Hardy’s path to the Dallas Mavericks has been nothing short of unexpected. A former elite prospect in his draft class, Hardy’s detour for a season with the NBA G-League Ignite left more questions than answers to his game, and gave the Mavericks the opportunity to draft him in the second round. While it wasn’t known on draft night that the Mavericks would officially be without Jalen Brunson and less ballhandling moving forward, the situation in Dallas could be a fortuitous one for Hardy. Especially with Jason Kidd coaching the team.
The 20-year old playmaker had a flashy start to his summer league. He started slow but quickly showed a dynamic set of NBA-level scoring skills, pouring in 28 points and nearly knocking down a buzzer-beating game winner. It was hard not to overreact to his play, and slotting him into a rotation spot his rookie season.
The rest of his summer league, however, was a mixed bag, shooting 27-percent from three and just 35-percent from the floor. His raw skillsets showed just how raw they were, and though it’s clear his potential it’s also evident how far he has to go.
If this same performance took place two or three summers ago, with Rick Carlisle leading the Mavericks from the bench, I would have told you Hardy would be sent to the end of the bench for the next nine months. The former Mavericks’ head coach was notoriously tough on rookies and inexperienced players, especially ballhandlers. He had a very specific system, ideas about each player’s job on the floor, and there was a tight leash for those that slipped up or detracted. Carlisle was often right about the flow of his system, but after his departure it was clear from returning players that him being right wasn’t always to the benefit of team’s experience as a whole.
To his credit, as the Mavericks really made a move to rebuilding the team for the future in the final years of Dirk Nowitzki’s tenure Carlisle gave some opportunity and freedom to young players with promise. His giving playing time and space to grow is what gives us the Dorian Finney-Smith (81 games played his rookie year) of today. Those seasons gave a handful of raw players a chance to grow on the floor, even if they weren’t all traditional rookies. Yes that includes giving the reins to Dennis Smith Jr. in 2017, or opportunity for 26-year old rookie Maxi Kleber and a full 82 games to 24-year old Yogi Ferrell (his only full season with the Mavericks). But these players were also given that space by Carlisle on a team that was tanking, where the stakes were fairly low from game to game.
When Jason Kidd took over summer of 2021 one thing he made clear was his emphasis on empowering the players to make plays. At the time it sounded like general coach speak — and yes, maybe it was a little — but throughout the season that held true for better or worse. It led to a boost in Jalen Brunson’s play, for one, making him more than just an offensive general. It also led to a hands-off approach in regular season games to let the players on the floor find their way on their own. Sometime it led to wins, other times not. But it was an effort to give players the confidence that they can make mistakes and learn from them. Something he wanted in his playing days:
“As a player, I didn’t like timeouts,” Kidd said. “Big picture is prepare to have all the answers for the playoffs. The dress rehearsal is that there are going to be times that things don’t go well. I’m not taking a timeout. We got to figure it out on the floor.”
This leads us back to Hardy. In his other head coaching stops Kidd hasn’t had many rookie scoring guards or ballhandlers to lead. He did coach Malcolm Brogdon as he entered the league with the Milwaukee Bucks, a team that was still young and developing. Brogdon, exceptionally old and experienced his rookie season, played 75 games on his way to Rookie of the Year. It’s difficult to use that as a model for Hardy, who will be a full four years younger than Brogdon was that season and will be playing for a Mavericks team that just appeared in the Western Conference Finals.
Nevertheless, expect Hardy to be given opportunity this season even if it isn’t a nightly role. His relationship and development under Kidd will be an interesting subplot to this season. The potential is there for Hardy, and Kidd will now be given his own opportunity to walk the walk in empowering a young player to learn in real time.