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Jaden Hardy proved plenty this season for the Mavericks

A roller-coaster trajectory for the rookie didn’t stop him from constantly improving this season.

Golden State Warriors v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images

Season in review

Once a top prospect in his draft class, Jaden Hardy’s path to an NBA roster was a winding one. With a rookie season now under his belt there’s reason to believe the Dallas Mavericks got lottery value out of their second round pick.

Hardy ended up in the 2022 second round after an inefficient season in the G-league. While some of those challenges still popped up this year, Hardy proved his ability as a shooter and showed potential as a versatile scoring threat. At the end of the day that’s all you can ask for from a rookie, let alone the 37th selection.

As expected Hardy didn’t see much time on the floor early in the season, rather getting reps with the Texas Legends. In those G-league stints with the Mavericks’ affiliate, 11 appearances, the 6’4 scoring guard averaged 28.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assists while shooting 49-percent from three.

It wasn’t until December that Hardy started to see opportunity with the Mavericks. Early on he struggled with defensive length, both at the rim and with his jump shot. By the end of the calendar year, in 11 appearances, he shot just 13-percent from three. That he shot 40-percent from three on the season really highlights how well he progressed once they got to January. It’s also no surprise that this is when his playing time became more consistent.

Where his greatest potential shown was after the trade for Kyrie Irving. Jason Kidd gave more scoring responsibility to Hardy, allowing him to play with core rotation players more frequently. He took advantage of better spacing and connected with volume on his threes. Hardy closed out his rookie season well: in the final 16 games (five starts) Hardy averaged 13.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 2.4 assists, while shooting 45.8-percent from three in 5.2 attempts per game.

Compared to the rest of his rookie class Hardy was 24th in games played, 24th in minutes, 17th in points, 6th in three-point percentage and 16th in points per game.

Best game

Just after the Mavericks traded away second scoring option Spencer Dinwiddie and before Kyrie Irving took the floor for the first time, the team needed scoring punch badly with Luka Doncic recovering from injury. Hardy and Josh Green provided that in a thrilling victory over the Utah Jazz on February 4. It can be hard to remember now, but at the time the Mavericks were still firmly in the playoff hunt. So to have Hardy and Green play hero was very encouraging.

Playing sixth man off the bench, Hardy poured in 29 points in just 26 minutes while adding four rebounds, four assists, and two steals. There were no efficiency concerns that night either — he shot 8-of-12 from the floor, 4-of-6 from three, and went 9-of-9 from the free throw line. It’s the sort of stat line that makes you dream of the future. He put on display a wide range of scoring tools, and knocked down some clutch buckets in the process.

Contract Status

Hardy, who turns 21 this summer, enters the second season of a three-year $3.1 million deal. At this time there are partial guarantees on third year of the deal, which won’t be determined until next summer.

Looking ahead

There are clear areas Hardy should focus on developing this summer if he wants to be a mainstay in the Mavericks rotation next season. His ball-handling tends to get a little loose, especially in traffic. Not only did it move him from his desired spots, but it either led to poor shot selection or turnovers from trying to kick the ball back out. Though he doesn’t project to be a point guard burdened with creating for others his 65 assists and 46 turnovers on the season leaves much to be desired.

Elsewhere offensively Hardy will need to get better in the lane. He shot just 67-of-134 around the restricted area, well below league average. He limited careless mid-range shots, but will need to be more varied in his scoring approach to be more than a catch-and-shoot threat.

The Mavericks proved nothing defensively, and that fault doesn’t rest on the rookie. But he struggles on that end given his size and frame. The hope will be he can stand his own and be paired with other perimeter defenders to cover weaknesses.

Hardy showed plenty this season, and could be a key piece next season. He projects best as a sixth man scoring threat, but given how much is in flux with the Mavericks trajectory all opportunities could be on the table for Hardy next season.

Grade A-

A pleasant surprise that the Mavericks identified Hardy and traded back into the draft last summer to grab him, and then help develop him this season. In many ways it’s a positive that it’s so obvious what he needs to improve on. Often after rookie seasons, especially with second rounders, development can be a wide net. But Hardy has tools to be a rotation piece on a cheap contract, and that can be mighty valuable in Dallas.