The Mavericks do not have a great history of selecting players outside of the lottery in the draft. Signing undrafted players (like Dorian Finney-Smith and J.J. Barea) sure, but something about the pressure of a later first or early second round pick seems to get to the decision makers in the draft room.
Jaden Hardy is the latest contestant on “will this Dallas mid-draft pick suck”, and one with the widest range of outcomes in recent memory. Hardy is a talented guard who was ranked number 2 in the 2021 recruiting class out of high school. He opted to play for the G-League Ignite team in 2021-22, averaging 21 points on 40 percent shooting in 13 games on the Ignite Tour. Now, he enters his rookie season and, on a Mavericks roster that has a lot of questions at the back-up guard spots, Hardy seeks to be an answer.
The loss of starting guard Jalen Brunson in the offseason is well-documented. His absence has forced Spencer Dinwiddie to take his spot in the starting lineup, leaving the Mavericks’ bench with gaping holes at the back-up point guard position. Currently, Frank Ntilikina and Theo Pinson are the only guards signed to full-time contracts on the bench and, while both of them are likable guys, they are not reliable ball-handlers off the bench.
Dallas is in desperate need to find relief guard services, and if they cannot find it from an outside source (they need to try as hard as possible), then the question then becomes who can help them internally? And more specifically, how much can Jaden Hardy help them with backup guard minutes this upcoming season?
Best Case Scenario
Jaden Hardy showed out in his first summer league game as a Maverick, and it was very easy to overreact to his performance. He looked dynamic as a playmaker, shot the ball fairly well, and his handle looked up to snuff. Although he did not play as well in the following games, his first outing looked like the type of player the Mavericks are missing on their bench.
This is exactly Hardy’s best case scenario. An in-house solution to their lack of playmaking and ball-handling, with the benefit of him gaining in-game experience very quickly. Picking up guard duties for the second unit, averaging around eight to ten points per game, three assists, and a few energy moments here and there is the ideal rookie campaign for Hardy. He will not be a game changer from day one, but if he can get valuable experience in conjunction with the Mavericks contending, he could be a valuable piece for the franchise going forward.
Worst Case Scenario
The worst case scenario can be looked at from two perspectives. Firstly, from the team angle, Hardy’s best case scenario could mean the worst case for the team. If Dallas is relying on Hardy to give them minutes off the bench, it means that they did not acquire a back-up guard and therefore still have very bare inventory in the ball-handling department. Because of the uncertainty and degree of “rawness” to Hardy’s game, relying on him to be the backup to Luka Doncic could mean trouble for the Mavericks’ season.
On the personal side for Hardy, his worst case scenario would be that the Mavericks do get help in the backcourt, and he just does not play at all. Garbage time reps and preseason run could be the extent of his on-court experience this year. He could simply still be too unrefined to play in any meaningful capacity and it could exile him to the end of the bench for as long as Jason Kidd sees fit.
The goal for Hardy this season should be to work himself into a role at some point. Much like Josh Green of two years ago (or even last year), he should try to make enough of an impression to get minutes during real game time, whether as a spark plug or as the third-or-fourth-string guard. Game experience is invaluable, and Hardy has too much talent to not give himself a chance to gain some experience this year.
Jaden Hardy is certainly an exciting piece to the Mavericks’ weird puzzle they have constructed. He’s very talented, but it’s not clear what kind of player he can be, and his inconsistency holds him back. Jason Kidd’s coaching philosophy, with player empowerment on offense and team concepts on defense, should prove integral in Hardy’s early development. Rookie seasons are always interesting to watch, and considering the circumstances around the Mavericks guard situation, Jaden Hardy’s first year in the NBA should be a fun ride.