The Dallas Mavericks knew they had to be aggressive in the 2022 NBA Draft with Jaden Hardy still on the board in the second round. They traded second-rounders in 2024 and 2028 to acquire the No. 37 overall pick from the Sacramento Kings.
“We had him higher than 37,” Mavs GM Nico Harrison said of Hardy’s position on their board. (He was reportedly at No. 19.) "Yeah, we were surprised. We were really shocked that he kept slipping.”
Hardy elected to play the 2021-22 season with the G League Ignite instead of going through the traditional collegiate route. He averaged 19.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists, but he slipped from being the second nationally ranked prospect in his high school class to not being a first-round pick.
“Playing in the G League, I already know what it’s like playing at this level, playing at the professional level,” Hardy said. “It was guys that I went against in the G League that played with championship teams that won championships, so just having that experience I feel like it was only going to help me in the long run.”
When digging deep into Hardy's G League Ignite film, there was room for growth as a high pick-and-roll orchestrator and as a finisher. It's not a surprise considering most young guards have to develop these into strengths, especially when competing against grown men instead of college players.
Hardy began his play in Las Vegas Summer League with a 28-point outing against the Chicago Bulls. However, he finished averaging 15.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in five games. He shot just 34.7 percent from the floor, 26.9 percent from 3-point range, and 69.6 percent on free throws. He turned the ball over five times per game. These performances were a strong indicator of both his already-known strengths and weaknesses.
Multiple members of the Mavs organization shared observations about Hardy's performance in training camp with DallasBasketball.com. The common theme was that the game appears simplified for Hardy, as he’s more comfortable making reads out of pick-and-rolls. He also managed to get feet into the paint when attacking closeouts and in handoffs.
When the NBA produced Real Training Camp with the Mavs on Friday, Hardy put on a show. He broke out a Shammgod dribble move into a euro-step against Maxi Kleber in a 1-on-1 drill. He was also highly efficient on catch-and-shoot jumpers throughout training camp during the portion that was open to the media.
Mavs fans received their first in-person look at Hardy during Saturday's Fan Jam event. He scored 18 points, with 15 coming in the second half alone. He was among the key standouts, and the display has sparked a lot of intrigue entering the preseason.
“Really, I’m just going out there by keeping the game simple and making the right read and making the simple play,” Hardy said. “I felt like just being out there it was going to come to me. It felt great to be out there playing in front of the fans for the first time and just competing against the guys.
“But really, it’s done with all the work that I put in this summer with coach (Sean) Sweeney and coach (Greg) St. Jean, and then sitting down with coach (Jason) Kidd this morning and getting what they wanted from me and applying it to our workouts. That’s what helped me.”
There was clear chemistry shared between Hardy and Spencer Dinwiddie during Mavs Fan Jam. The catch-and-shoot ability that Hardy possesses also makes him an impactful complement to a star player, which is ideal on a team that has Luka Doncic.
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“That’s just from applying open runs together,” Hardy said, “and him just being a vet and giving me information and wanting to help me out.”
Hardy relishes the chance to play his first actual NBA game alongside the teammates he's built chemistry with in offseason open runs and training camp. He has spent plenty of time playing with Christian Wood in open runs as well.
The connection between Wood and Hardy was clear in training camp. While Hardy was answering media questions, Wood was walking by told reporters: "He's a steal. I'm telling you. He's a steal." With Wood entering the season as an anchor of the bench group, the chemistry established could prove useful if Hardy gets regular playing time.
“What I’m looking forward to really is just playing my first NBA game. . .and going out there and competing with my teammates,” Hardy said. “We’re ready for the season and it’s going to be fun.”
The raw scoring ability Hardy possesses is something that gives him a chance to make an impact early on if given the opportunity. As he develops throughout his career, becoming more efficient and knowing when to attack will be important to maximizing his impact.
“I think you can look at it that way where the experience of playing against other NBA players in the G League, maybe he has a little cheat sheet as a rookie participating in those games,” Kidd said. “But I think also the summer and working in the summer and understanding what was coming (has been advantageous).
“We gave him the answers and he’s digested it very well in a sense of trying to just do what he can do and not over-do or try to stretch his role. And again, he’s playing at a high level and he’s doing a great job for as rookie.”
Hardy will need to earn everything he gets in terms of playing time this season. There has been frequent mention about Josh Green and Frank Ntilikina as receiving larger roles as secondary ball-handlers. Tim Hardaway Jr. returning from injury naturally will factor into how many minutes are available as well.
Still, though, with a need for reliable shot creation outside of Doncic and Dinwiddie, Hardy is a name to monitor as we get closer to opening night.
You can follow Grant Afseth on Twitter at @GrantAfseth.
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