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Exclusive 1-on-1: Jaden Hardy Speaks on Mavs Rookie Season, Stint with Legends & More

Dallas Mavericks rookie Jaden Hardy has thrived during his performances with the Texas Legends. He spoke to DallasBaskebtall.com for an exclusive interview.

The Dallas Mavericks capitalized on Jaden Hardy still being on the board early in the second round of the 2022 NBA Draft by acquiring the No. 37 overall pick from the Sacramento Kings to select him. Hardy was reportedly a top-20 prospect on the Mavs' draft list, so the selection was seen as having high value.

The free agency departure of Jalen Brunson created a big need for the Mavs, as they needed to find who could emerge in the future as an impactful backcourt talent. Hardy is one of the more intriguing options, as he has a high ceiling and could develop into being a high-impact player in the backcourt. However, the biggest question is: how quickly can that happen? 

“There are a lot of people in front of him, so he’s got to be patient,” Kidd said of Hardy's path to earning minutes with the Mavs. 

In the meantime, Hardy is thriving with the Texas Legends – the Mavs' G League affiliate. Through seven games, he's averaging 27.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists and is coming off a season-high 35 points against the Lakeland Magic on Tuesday night. Perhaps most impressive of all: Hardy is shooting 56.1 percent from the floor, 47.5 percent on 3-pointers, and 95.7 percent on free throws.

So far, Hardy has found value in spending time with the Mavs in addition to playing with the Legends to get more game reps. The main club has a lot of veterans that have made it a point to help Hardy along his rookie journey. 

"It's been a good experience so far," Hardy told DallasBasketball.com of his rookie season so far. "Just being able to learn from the vets when I'm up with the Mavs — Spencer Dinwiddie, Christian Wood, all of those guys. They all accept me and are always trying to help me, so it's been a good experience. 

"When I'm with the Legends, I'm getting reps and getting my confidence up to be ready when my number is called." 

Perhaps most impressive of all about Hardy's impact with the Legends has been his continued progression. On Tuesday, he scored a season-high 35 points despite coming off the bench. He scored 24 of his points in the second half and was instrumental, along with McKinley Wright IV, in rallying the Legends to victory by erasing a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit.

Hardy's efficiency has been highly impressive, to say the least. He ranks fourth in the G League in scoring, and his output of 1.135 points per possession (PPP) is by far the best among all high-volume scorers. He and his teammate, Wright IV, are the only players with at least 150 possessions generating at least 1.0 PPP.

"I think with my season with the G League Ignite until now, I feel like I've improved in all of the areas really," Hardy told DallasBasketball.com of his development since last season before he was drafted.

"Once I was drafted by the Mavs, they had me come down and get work in with the coaches. They were helping to develop my game. We were working on everything, so I feel like I've developed in all areas — my playmaking, shooting, defense, and just becoming a better leader."

With the Mavs coming off a Western Conference Finals run, the team needs efficient players that fit next to Doncic while also being positive defenders. For Hardy, he emphasizes his improved decision-making as a playmaker, his shot quality, and defensive impact when playing with the Legends. 

"Things that I'm focusing on when I'm down (with the Legends) is my playmaking, making the right decisions, taking the right shots, and just being a better defender," said Hardy. "Those are the key areas that I'm focused on."

With the Legends, Hardy is able to gain valuable reps as a pick-and-roll ball handler and has been highly efficient when doing so. These sequences have accounted for 38.5 percent of his offensive possessions, and as a scorer, he's generating 1.261 PPP, which ranks atop the 88 G League players with at least 15 possessions. 

Hardy has also displayed a dynamic ability to make pull-up 3-pointers when utilizing ball screens. The opposition often switches these plays, and he takes advantage by raising to fire if he has a window of space. However, he gets into his step-back going left in order to get his shot off if the situation calls for it. 

Hardy has been aggressive in attacking the rim out of ball screen situations, too. He has a strong frame at 6-foot-4 with athleticism, enabling him to be a tough guard to navigate screens against while maintaining leverage throughout the rest of his drive. 

There's been continued progression from Hardy in countering different defensive looks in ball screen attacks. He recently countered a hedge by splitting both defenders and nearly putting the help defender on a poster with an aggressive dunk attempt — resulting in a shooting foul. 

Hardy also recently snaked a ball screen to get in to the gap, but what he did next is quite impressive. He lowered his shoulder to get into the big defender before getting to a one-hand, scoop finish. His patience throughout the play and skill to complete such a tough finish should be noted. 

If the big defender attempts to make a switch after playing close to the level of the screen, Hardy is going to attack it to get to the rim and is comfortable doing so going either direction. He's just too quick to attempt to contain in such a situation. If there isn't a clean drive, though, he's also shown the ability to properly determine when to retreat out. 

There is a clear focus from Hardy to attack downhill when he has the big drawn out of the paint early in a possession. Being patient early for the screener to come toward the ball just long enough before exploding downhill to attack open space has worked quite well for him. 

A fair amount of pick-and-roll scorers are limited to taking 3-pointers or making rim attacks. Teams want to limit mid-range attempts due to the nature of their value, but again, having additional layers beyond the ideal outcomes goes a long way in a player being a consistent threat. Hardy has shown some intriguing stuff in mid-range as a ball screen threat.

Hardy's comfortability with using his frame to absorb contact in mid-range before getting his shot off is also impressive. When he gets the defender off-balance, he can use that to his advantage with this counter if the option of getting to the rim isn't present. 

Another element of what makes Hardy an intriguing ball screen threat is his comfort level with using escape dribbles before pulling up when he has an empty-corner possession. Having such a counter, in general, when attacking going right is something that not many guards tend to possess. 

There are things that Hardy does that truly exhibits star potential. One play that stood out was a one-legged jumper on a drive after attacking a switch. He used great change-of-pace by spinning on the escape dribble and exploding into a crossover to get downhill going left. 

With the defender trying to recover and a big ready to help in the paint, Hardy decelerates by planting his left foot and raises off it to take a pull-up jumper. The sequence displayed great understanding of how to create space in tight conditions on the drive while staying controlled. Simply put, that's a play with a high degree of difficulty and he made it look easy. 

Where the Mavs would surely like to see continued development from Hardy in pick-and-roll situations is in his passing reads — as he mentioned in his comment. There are still some things to iron out in those situations. However, there is a combination of having underwhelming screening threats that should be taken into consideration as well. 

A lot of Hardy's turnovers have come with disconnects that have occurred when he's trying to work the ball to the roll man. It seems on a few, the defense made an unexpected decision, like the low-man making an aggressive play on the ball after the sailing a pass. 

More examples of areas for passing read improvements can be seen in reading the big defender when they are playing close to the level. Whether the big attempts to recover after trapping, or the switch neutralizes the window to hit the roller, continuing to grow in manipulating the defense will be important. 

There are some flashy plays that Hardy has made delivering the ball to the roller that proved to be successful. When the defense plays in a traditional ball screen coverage instead of switching, he's shown to be effective at creating advantages and exploiting them to get the ball to the big in scoring position. 

An important element of pick-and-roll playmaking is to read the low-man and time a pass to the weak-side corner. Hardy has done that a few times. Continuing to see these types of reads would be ideal for him to be given the keys to run the offense for a lineup with the Mavs. 

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Hardy hasn't been doing a ton of isolation with the Legends, but he's been highly efficient in those situations. He's producing 1.375 PPP and that ranks in the 94th percentile among qualified players. The foundation of his impact has been the threat of his explosiveness when attacking the rim. He's displayed an impressive ability to use crafty ball handling to create an early advantage before exploding to the rim for a finish. 

If a defender isn't on-point with their approach in guarding Hardy on an island, there is a real risk they run of getting shifted and ultimately giving up either a finish at the rim, or fouling. He's quite impressive in how he attacks open space after he uses his handle to get the defender to commit their hips in a way that creates an advantage for him before exploding downhill. 

The combination of creativity as a ball handler and use of his frame makes Hardy challenging to contain even for wings. If the defender fails on a reach attempt, he's going to have a counter and he's going to aggressively turn the corner. Again, the knack he has for attacking open space gets put into full force, often requiring the help defense to be on a string. 

It's understandable that a defender would be hesitant to engage Hardy out in space too closely. However, when the defender starts to sag off Hardy to favor being in a position necessary to cutoff a potential initial drive, he is patient in his approach to get a shot off from beyond the arc. 

When a downhill attack doesn't lead to getting feet in the paint, Hardy can absorb contact and get to his mid-range game in isolation — it's not just limited to when he has a step advantage after using a ball screen. He's one of those players that is comfortable with taking the big shot late in the clock. 

What makes Hardy such an intriguing off-ball threat is that not only can he convert at a high clip on tough catch-and-shoot looks as a spacer, but he also can attack downhill off-the-catch and is a motion shooting threat. It's rare to find talents that are comfortable in doing all of those things. When playing next to such a dynamic threat like Doncic, that's a real weapon. 

By having Wright IV to initiate offense alongside him, Hardy has still been able to sharpen his impact as an all-around spot-up threat, as well as be involved in some off-ball actions. He's always been a proficient catch-and-shoot threat and he's continued to showcase that ability by generating 1.444 PPP.

As a spot-up shooter, Hardy isn't one to hesitate against a contest. There are some players that become reluctant to let it fly while others see a sharp decline in accuracy. Instead, he seems to relish the chance to take tough shots, but is quite impactful when open, too.  

A prime example of how dynamic Hardy is as a catch-and-shoot threat was on display when he got the ball back after clearing out the defender and showing zero hesitation to let it fly deep off the 3-point line. Having additional ways of generating offense when a possession stagnates is key, and this is an example of how he can help in that regard. 

The Legends haven't frequently deployed Hardy in off-ball screening actions in their half-court offense, but Hardy has shown flashes of dynamic stuff in those plays, regardless. He's a go-to option during inbounding plays while also being used during a regular possession. 

Hardy is capable of quick trigger 3s within the flow of a possession in situations like handoffs. Losing track of him when he's spacing the floor can leave his man a step behind, which is all he needs to take the shot. His shooting ability in these situations offers a strong two-man game potential with the Mavs.

The threat that Hardy poses far from the 3-point line enables him to use handoffs to attack the rim. While some of these plays will continue to end in favorable drives to the rim, consider the situations when the defense is accounting for him deep off the 3-point line as a decoy? That's a real asset for the Mavs' offense in the long-term. 

When spacing from the wing, Hardy can exploit the defense quite well by using his physical tools to aggressively attack the rim off-the-catch. With the drastic measures teams go to load up on Doncic in ball screen coverages, having threats that can make plays of this nature as relief options is very helpful. Hardy is advanced in this regard, even using jab steps 

Getting the ball after spacing the floor can offer Hardy opportunities to really showcase his creativity and star qualities. The threat of his catch-and-shoot ability will naturally incline defenders to stay close to him when he's off the ball. When relocating to the ball, there can be opportunities to counter the defender's momentum on the catch. Hardy exploits these chances by quickly changing directions. 

A lot of floor spacers struggle with being comfortable getting to counters on their drive when the initial drive direction doesn't offer an advantage. Hardy thrives at absorbing contact and using it to his advantage. Whether it's a behind-the-back dribble against an early cutoff, or a spin move midway through a drive, he clearly has counters in his arsenal. 

The theme of mid-range scoring being a strong emergency option for Hardy when the drive doesn't have favorable conditions for a finish deep on an attack continues even in off-the-catch attacks. Hardy can absorb contact then create space before raising up for his jumper in these situations. 

Given that the Mavs have plenty of veteran guards in their rotation, Hardy understands that it's a process before receiving that type of opportunity. He believes that in order to earn that chance, he has to emphasize staying consistent on a day-to-day basis to stay ready for when his number is called.

"Really it's just about staying consistent," Hardy told DallasBasketball.com when asked about what he believes he must show to earn a rotation spot in the future. "Staying ready for whenever my name is called and when that opportunity comes."

With the Mavs having one of — if not, the best — player in the NBA in Luka Doncic, Hardy gets to observe the daily habits and process from the three-time All-NBA First-Team guard. The pace that Doncic plays with has been a key observation that Hardy has made already.

"I would say his demeanor, it just never changes," Hardy told DallasBasketball.com about what he's learned from Doncic. "He stays calm all the time. The way he plays, he's never in a rush, he never lets anyone speed him up. So, I'd probably say that's the type of stuff that I take from him. And work ethic — stuff like that."

One player that has been a great resource for Hardy as he spends time between the Mavs and Legends is Wood. They are both from the Las Vegas area and have known each for years. Additionally, Wood earned his way to where he's at now by utilizing the G League after going undrafted. 

"I've known C-Wood for a long time, our relationship goes back," Hardy told DallasBasketball.com. "Just being able to talk to him, talk to him about his experience, seeing his journey and where he's at now, that's someone I can go to when I'm feeling down or something. I can always go and talk to him." 

Another advantage that Hardy has in his development journey is the ability to learn from a head coach who was a Hall of Fame point guard in his playing career. Hardy attributes honest feedback from coach Jason Kidd as being key in building his confidence as a player. 

"He's helped me to develop my game," Hardy told DallasBasketball.com. "Just being true, telling me what I need to work on and giving me that confidence. I'm going to make mistakes, but he helps me with that."

The overall improvement in Hardy's overall improvement is staggering compared to his season with the G League Ignite. At just 20 years old, the rookie guard has impressive potential and is putting it on full display with the Legends. Given the Mavs' roster needs, it wouldn't shock us if he gets called up for some real minutes later on this season.


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