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Mavs Film Room: The Upside Risk/Reward of Rookie Jaden Hardy

The Mavericks traded into the NBA Draft to take a change of former G League Ignite star Jaden Hardy. We take an in-depth look.

The Dallas Mavericks did not make a selection in the first round of the 2022 NBA Draft due to trading the No. 26 overall pick to the Houston Rockets for Christian Wood. They entered draft night without a single pick, but a trade changed that

Using two future second-round picks (2024 & 2028), the Mavericks traded for the No. 37 overall pick from the Sacramento Kings to gain the necessary position to select former G League Ignite standout Jaden Hardy. During his lone season with the G League Ignite, the 6-foot-4 guard averaged 21.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game. 

"Super talented, he’s still raw – he’s young, so it’s going take a while. He was a second-round draft pick, but he can really score the ball at a high level," said Mavs GM Nico Harrison.

“We had him higher than 37,'' Nico said of where Dallas ranked Hardy on its board. (He was reportedly at No. 19.) "Yeah, we were surprised. We were really shocked that he kept slipping.”

Hardy was widely considered the second-best recruit in the 2021 national recruiting class behind only Chet Holmgren. In fact, he finished above Paolo Banchero, who was selected No. 1 overall by the Orlando Magic in this year's NBA Draft. 

There is a clear risk that players take when they play for the G League Ignite. It can be easier to create an "uglier" catalog of game film against grown men as competition as opposed to playing amateurs. There is also greater access for NBA personnel to get to know a player's daily habits and road trip conduct, which league sources tell had a negative impact on his draft stock. 

Overall, Hardy is a perfect case study for this outcome. When a highly talented player drops much further than expected, it tends to have something to do with either behavior or medical information. For Hardy, it's possible it had more to do with his tendency to be late for workouts and conduct on road trips, particularly in the era of COVID-19 protocols being of utmost importance. Violation of the COVID-19 protocols even landed him a one-game suspension early in the season. 

As long as there is buy-in, there's a lot to like about the player Hardy could become for the Mavericks. We took an in-depth look at his season with the G League Ignite to see what Dallas is getting: 

Dynamic Shot Creation Flashes

The Mavericks surely took a chance on Hardy for his talent because they like the upside in dynamic areas he projects as having. What he can do with the basketball in his hands operating out of pick-and-rolls or attacking as an isolation scorer are atop the list. 

Hardy did a lot of damage as a shot creator from beyond the arc when the on-ball defender went under the screen. Gambling the percentages that a player so young isn't going to consistently convert on pull-up 3s at a high clip seemed to be a common strategy deployed against him. 

Particularly against the Santa Cruz Warriors, Hardy displayed an intriguing ability to punish teams early for switching. He capitalized on the window of daylight and cushion he was afforded by getting to his shot process from deep. The Mavericks do not have much for dynamic shot creation of this nature and could certainly benefit if the execution is consistent. 

One play that stands out from Hardy as a perimeter shot creator using a ball screen occurred against the Capital City Go-Go. After breaking down the on-ball defender, he quickly used a one-two footwork technique to quickly get to the pull-up 3 with the big defender not engaging close enough to the level to deter him. If this can become a regular sequence, it would go a long way in opening up the rest of his game. 

Hardy appears most comfortable getting to a pull-up inside the 3-point line when he's attacking out of a ball screen. When the on-ball defender goes over the screen and trails the play, he likes to take advantage of the big defender playing a drop to get as close to the nail as he can for a pull-up. He can get crafty with screen setups to maximize the gap as well as countering the recovery from the on-ball defender.

In terms of playmaking out of ball screens, Hardy often used those sequences to create offense for himself. He only passed out of these sequences 27.4 percent of the time and it's easy to see why. With the defense often favoring to load up on the G League Ignite's perimeter creators instead of staying neutral by respecting the screener, it was tougher for the ball handler to create quality passing outcomes. There wasn't much for high-level shooting execution from spot-up threats either. 

Hardy displayed an impressive ability to create favorable opportunities for the rim roller by getting deep on the drive to setup a drop-off pass. He can draw the big defender to setup a wrap-around pass or just simply hit the big in the hands right in front of the rim when there's a clean window to do so. 

When the play calls for a pocket pass, Hardy is more than capable at making those types of deliveries to the big. He's effective at balancing drawing the big and making a well-timed pass to put the big in a favorable position on the catch. The accuracy and general execution is advanced and will only be enhanced playing with more talented players. 

Another aspect of Hardy's pick-and-roll playmaking to like is his ability to not only read when to throw a high-arching lob to the rim roller, but his execution in making the actual pass. He knows when the tag isn't being made and doesn't waste time getting it out of hands with accuracy. 

When the low-man was tagging the rim roller or the was generally favoring to load up the paint to prevent Hardy from making a play directly, he made quality reads getting to the ball to the open man on the weak-side. He could work on making on live dribble passes, but overall, the reads were correct and he made accurate deliveries. 

Hardy displayed a little bit of everything in terms of passing flashes. His decision-making and execution was impressive and will be something to watch at the Las Vegas Summer League. He's known for his scoring, but his passing could be on display. 

The results from Hardy as an isolation scorer are certainly a mixed bag. He did not often take early 3s, but there were some cringe inducing takes where he raised up to fire without creating an advantage for himself. Some of these misses were airballs or bad misses off the front of the rim. However, he didn't take these early 3s often. He will need to fine-tune his execution before breaking that out in the NBA. 

There was one play that stood out from Hardy as a perimeter shot creator out of isolation. He worked the defender backward and established a genuine rhythm in his size-up process before raising up to shoot. This is a quality process that can be a functional asset for the half-court offense he's playing a role in as opposed to settling for bad takes. 

Hardy was at his best as an isolation scorer when he had space to operate and took his man off the dribble to get to the rim. He thrives at setting up the defender using change of speed moves like a hesitation dribble early knowing there is respect of his perimeter shot creation. If the defender favors playing the drive, he absorbs contact and changes directions well. 

Hardy favors getting deep on the drive to the rim more, but his mid-range game would be a great tool to use more consistently in order to avoid challenging crowds deep on drives as much. He's crafty getting to the step-back going to his left when the defender is playing the drive and he needs to get to a spot for a bucket. 

Finishing Around Basket Needs Work

It was a struggle for Hardy to consistently make a positive impact when he attacked the paint. He shot just 32-83 FG (38.6 percent) on finish attempts (half-court) with the G League Ignite. His execution taking floaters was rough as well as he shot just 5-20 FG (25.0 percent) on those.

One of the limitations Hardy faces when attacking the big deployed in drop coverage is the lack of a reliable floater. When he doesn't quickly take the pull-up after turning the corner or snaking the screen into the gap, he tends to play at one speed (fast) and tries to attack the big head-on. Such an approach often results in low percentage outcomes.

Among the areas for Hardy to improve when attacking out of ball screens is his approach against help defense. If he doesn't encounter a deep drop, there will be situations where the low-man is making an aggressive rotation to prevent a clean finish.

Hardy would benefit from continuing to get comfortable finishing against contact or from getting to counters in short-range when the on-ball defender cuts him off. This is just another area where playing at one speed tends to result in low percentage outcomes.

There's a lot to like about how Hardy can get to the rim when he has space to go to work. Among those situations is when the defense chooses to switch the ball screen or handoff. The defense has to respect his shot creation ability and his first step does the rest. He tends to win plays where he's attacking 1-on-1 with room to operate. 

Again, instead of just simply coming off a ball screen and driving straight into the big defender, it's can be helpful to engage the big. If getting into space to setup a change of direction is an option, an advantage can be created for the guard since a recovery is challenging for the big to make.

A strong example from Hardy came when he used a crossover to get into the middle of the paint — forcing the big defender to flip his hips. All of that was done to setup a spin and it then was left up to ability to complete a hanging finish to do the rest.

When Hardy plays with pace and control, there's a lot to like about is impact. In the play below, he was tasked with making an Iverson cut before receiving the ball. After initially attacking right and not forcing a bad shot, he retreats back out to the 3-point line to setup the use of a ball screen.

As Hardy began to turn the corner after coming off the ball screen, the defender responsible for offering help at the nail didn't stunt. The decision from the nail help not to stunt allowed Hardy to focus on gearing up for the big helping deep on the drive — resulting in a left-hand finish through contact.

In the play below, when the defense wanted to send Hardy going to his left during the play below, he had an intriguing counter. He used a jump stop to play off two feet in the paint while bringing the ball away from his left side to avoid the defender making the corner stunt. He stayed under control on the left hand finish.

As previously mentioned, Hardy must continue to work on his floater. Not only does it need to become more consistent in execution when he takes them, it needs to become more of a focal point in his game instead of challenging bigs at the summit or playing deep in a crowd deep in the paint.

Even on some of Hardy's more "under control" missed floaters, the execution just isn't there more often than not. Whether he's getting into the gap for a clean look, driving to the right side of the rim and playing through contact, or attacking left and having a defender loaded up on his right shoulder, all of that is going to need work. 

Off-Ball Fit With Luka Doncic

Any player brought into the Mavericks organization has to be able to make an impact offensively when the basketball is not in their hands. For a guard, it's essential to be a viable catch-and-shoot threat to make the defense pay for loading up on Doncic.

One of the intriguing parts of Hardy's skill-set is his ability to knock down catch-and-shoot jumpers at a high clip. He makes the defense pay for leaving him open and playing alongside Doncic will present plenty of those opportunities.

A key reason for Jalen Brunson's success playing alongside Doncic is his crafty ability to attack off the catch beyond just being a highly efficient catch-and-shoot threat. Hardy has shown flashes of being able to make plays off the bounce when the ball finds his way in the flow of the offense.

Presents Motion Shooting Ability

Hardy can be deployed in off-ball screening actions since he's a consistent motion shooter, whether from beyond the 3-point line or inside of it. He was deployed in "Floppy" actions a fair amount and is more than capable of coming off a pindown or flare screen and quickly raising and firing. 

It's not just about catch-and-shoot looks when deployed in off-ball screening actions. He has the athleticism to turn the corner and get to the rim. If there is spacing in the half-court offense, it's tough for the defense to be able to stop him before it's too late.

Perhaps most impressive of all about Hardy's impact out of off-ball screening actions is his ability to make a play off the bounce when there isn't a simple advantage created by the screen. He is able to break down the defender out in space for an off the dribble jumper that a lot of catch-and-shoot threats cannot do.

The Mavericks tend to utilize mostly Tim Hardaway Jr. in off-ball screening actions since he has motion shooting ability and can convert pull-ups. Aside from him, their supporting cast is limited in what they can achieve in those situations. Hardy presents another threat to utilize. 

Another area where Hardy's motion shooting ability makes him a threat is handoffs. If a play breaks down or the shot clock is running down, getting the ball to him and he's more than willing to take a tough shot. Some role players are largely hopeless in these situations, but he is far from it. 

Overall Thoughts on Draft Pick

Again, there is no denying the talent that Hardy possesses. A player as talented as him doesn't just fall for basketball reasons, especially when they're injury-free. It's just as simple as that. There's some refinement needed, but that's expected for such a young player going up against professionals. Trading into the second-round take an upside swing is a good bet to take. 

You can follow Grant Afseth on Twitter at @GrantAfseth

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