It’s a persistent dilemma for the Dallas Mavericks. Should they play Tim Hardaway Jr. in clutch, when he so often makes the wrong read?
On the other hand, can they survive on offense without Tim Hardaway Jr.‘s (THJ) willingness to shoot?
With Dante Exum and Kyrie Irving out, the team is lacking creators and decision-makers. When Luka Doncic is getting trapped or doubled, who’s there to create offense, if they pull THJ? Not really anybody.
But if the Mavericks have to play THJ in clutch, they have to set him up for success. First of all, the coaching staff cannot put him in a position where he gets trapped on the baseline. If he has to play to close a game, send him down to space the floor or catch the ball in transition.
Secondly, they cannot leave him hanging while trapped, pressured to the limit, ending in a travel. They cannot be watching from the sideline while this happens in clutch time, they have to take responsibility and call a timeout to help him. They know THJ, his strengths and weaknesses are clearer to them than to us, so they have to support him and not set him up to fail.
Luka Doncic gesturing to the bench to call a timeout was not encouraging either, because he once again has to take it upon himself to be the offensive motor, defensive leader and strategist.
will need this confirmed during the postgame press conference, but at first glance it sure looks like luka barking at the bench to call a timeout and help THJ too pic.twitter.com/pNQaOxi93X— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) January 30, 2024
It’s important to remember that role players are not all high basketball IQ stars with great vision and reads. Some are high IQ players, who may not bring a lot of scoring, but know how to make the right read and decision when every single detail matters during the end of games. Others are defensive-minded and take pride in getting stops.
Then there are the elite shooters. Their role is to shoot every time they have the ball if at all possible. Some of the most accomplished, like THJ, can also put the ball down and take it to the basket, or pull up for a mid-range shot. The latter is something he seems to have added to his bag this season, making him a very skilled role player for the Mavericks.
What makes Tim Hardaway Jr. such a valuable weapon for Dallas is the fact that he only has one gear. It’s a gear called “go” and it enables him to stay in shooter’s mode and not lose confidence despite missing shots. And when he starts making shots, he can change a game completely. Like here, during the comeback against the Magic:
But this one gear is also the reason why he shouldn’t close games or at least have a limited role during those minutes.
And then there’s the defense. THJ is so often a liability, missing rotations, close-outs and being lost on transition defense, it could be an analysis piece by itself. It’s not effort, but he seems to lack the tools and the right reads to do better.
There are certain times, especially the last five minutes of a close game, when these kinds of details really can affect the outcome. That’s when it’s time for superstars, who can switch gears as they read the game and understand what’s needed.
Kyrie Irving is one of the most savvy readers of the game, if you will, that I have ever seen play. The way he can spend the first half observing, deferring, blending in, and then pounce in the third or fourth quarter, completely taking over a game - that’s IQ on the highest level.
It almost feels like he’s lurking, observing who’s got a good game on the opposing team and watching how the defensive schemes are played. Then, like a bird of prey, he swoops in from the shadows, using all the opponent’s weaknesses and blind spots to his advantage.
And as a true superstar, he is great in clutch and that’s why you play superstars and high IQ players to close games. This type of role player has proven good decisions-making skills and an understanding of the game that enables him to make the right read under pressure.
One of those players on the Mavs is Maxi Kleber. Despite injuries and decreased athletic ability the last years, Maxi Kleber is one of coach Jason Kidd’s go-to guys in clutch.
The reason is simple. Kidd can trust Maxi to make the right read under pressure on defense, take the foul to prevent a layup in the right situation or to stop the clock. Maxi Kleber makes mistakes, like everybody does, but he has the right instincts and ability to read the game that he has built over a long career in Europe and the NBA.
Dante Exum is another high IQ player, who came back from Europe with heightened senses (to stay in the bird of prey analogy), and a record of better shooting and an unfazed attitude under pressure. Kidd has shown great trust in Exum as well, stressing that he will be starting next to Doncic and Irving, when everyone’s healthy.
On the other side of things, Kidd looks to have a short patience for bad decision-making, and perhaps that’s why he rolls with certain players over others at times, even though it may not make sense to the rest of us. Other times, he seems to not give players a chance at all. Could it be because he doesn’t trust them and they haven’t shown the level of decision-making ability (in practice) he requires?
It’s clear that Kidd really appreciates and prefers high basketball IQ and good decision-making skills on his team. Maybe because he was a very intelligent basketball player himself.
But you cannot assume that everybody has the same skill set and ability to read the game as you do. Some players need more help and guidance, and some need to shine in their role by not pushing more roles on them.
In order to be a good leader, you can’t treat everybody the same. You have to treat them all differently to get the best out of them. Like setting your players up for success by giving them limited roles to avoid failure. THJ is a great weapon and a fearless shooter with an elite mindset. But the Mavericks have to set him up for success to get the most out of him and this team.