Jaden Hardy generated plenty of buzz this season. The Dallas Mavericks traded into the second round of the 2022 NBA Draft to pick the former high school and G League Ignite standout, and he didn’t disappoint when he stepped on the court.
Simply put, Hardy was a bucket. The rookie showed out on offense, scoring at all three levels. While he can make nylon sing, he knows he has room for improvement. He plans to work on his game this summer and return even better next season.
“Going into the offseason things, I’m gonna look to work on for sure getting stronger and faster,” Hardy told the media after the last game of the season. “I want to be quicker and be able to get off the ground quicker. So those two areas I’m for sure going to work on. For me, just being able to play, give my all on both sides of the ball, and continue to develop my decision-making.”
Hardy didn’t look to distribute the ball much during his rookie season. He notched a career-high five assists against the San Antonio Spurs in the team’s final game. It was the seventh time he had four or more assists in a game. Improving his court vision and finding teammates will go a long way in making Hardy more of a threat on the court.
“I think the biggest part will be decision-making because he has all the skill sets on the offensive end,” Maxi Kleber said about Hardy’s off-season focus. “I think the most important things are to find a balance between when to go for himself and when to find a teammate and stuff like that. But he’s proven that at any time, you can give him the ball, and he will find a way to score for us.”
Scoring is certainly Hardy’s forte. He averaged 8.8 points on 43.8 percent shooting overall while knocking down 40.4 percent of his three-point attempts.
Against the Spurs, he poured in 25 points. Twenty-one of those points came in the second quarter. It was the highest single-quarter scoring output in the NBA this season amongst rookies and the most by a Dallas rookie since Roddy Beaubois scored 21 in the second quarter against the Golden State Warriors on March 27, 2010.
Hardy had nine 20-plus-point performances this season, including five games of 25-points or more. He finished the season as one of six rookies with five-or-more games scoring 25-plus points, joining Paolo Banchero, Bennedict Mathurin, Jaden Ivey, Jalen Williams and Shaedon Sharpe.
The numbers are impressive, considering Hardy didn’t see much playing time early in the season. He spent 11 games with the Texas Legends in the G League, averaging 28.8 points on 54.9 percent shooting from the floor and 49 percent from deep. Hardy credits his stint with the Legends as helping him develop as a player and prepare for the NBA game.
“There wasn’t really nothing that had caught me off guard,” Hardy said about his transition from the G League to the NBA. “I feel like that’s just me being a confident player, just going out there and believing in my ability. But I’d probably say just like the pace of the game and how good guys are.”
He started seeing sporadic minutes with the Mavericks in December before finally cracking the rotation and moving into a regular role in January. From there, Hardy took off. He played in 28 of Dallas’ final 33 games while averaging 10.7 points and 17.7 minutes.
“Literally month to month you saw the guy progress,” Mavericks GM Nico Harrison said at his postseason press conference. “At the beginning of the month, he learned to be a pro. The next month he learned he’s able to see passes that he didn’t see early on. The way he can score the ball pretty much at all three levels, the way he just attacks — he’s a special kid.”
It wasn’t just Harrison who was in awe of Hardy’s swelling confidence and maturation on the court. Head coach Jason Kidd and his teammates also noticed the jump he made during the season.
“He’s been unbelievable this year for a rookie,” Luka Doncic said. “He didn’t play much in the beginning, but he’s working. So, he improved a lot.”
Hardy is quick to return the praise. He says that his teammates were integral to his improvement this season. Watching the work they put in every day, adding positive elements to his routine and seeing how they handled their personal lives helped him mature. They also helped him see the bigger picture and understand that his growth is a marathon, not a sprint.
Even if Hardy understands that his skill and career trajectory is methodical, his growth has already raised expectations. There’s already talk of him him moving into a larger role next season.
“An everyday player,” Harrison said is a reasonable goal for Hardy. “I think that’s reasonable — a rotation player.”
With one NBA season under his belt, Hardy is ready to move forward. He knows that all the work he put in in the gym, the G League and with the Mavericks allowed him to excel. Hardy wants to take what he learned, build on that foundation, and work this summer — including during Summer League — to be even better next season.
“I feel like the progress I have made is not really normal for just a normal rookie,” Hardy said. “Just being consistent with my work ethic, going in the gym, listening to the staff, being a sponge to the players, trying to develop my game.
“Starting in the G League — just when I was down in the G League — getting the opportunity to work on my game, continue to grow as a player and mature on the court. Then, once I got my opportunity up [to the NBA], just trying to take advantage of it. So, I feel like, looking back at my rookie season, it’s been a good season. And for me to just continue to grow, continue to stay on that same path and work on my game.”