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Jaden Hardy 'Attack Without Fear!' Our Film Study Visit with Mavs' Explosive Rookie

Dallas Mavericks rookie Jaden Hardy has earned meaningful minutes. He spoke to about his development.

Jaden Hardy's mindset?

"Whenever anybody - whoever it is - is in front of me ... attack them (without) being afraid," Hardy said.

At the beginning of the season, it was unlikely that Jaden Hardy would be doing that in the NBA, as he was not receiving many opportunities with the Dallas Mavericks as a rookie to play meaningful minutes. 

He primarily played with the team's G League affiliate, the Texas Legends, to maximize his development in the meantime. 

And he "attacked'' there. And how he's "attacking'' with the big club.

Saying that Hardy 'played well' with the Legends would be a major understatement. In 11 games played, he averaged 28.8 points, and 3.6 assists. He did so while shooting a staggering 54.9 percent from the floor, 49.0 percent from 3-point range, and 86.4 percent on free throws. With an output of 1.125 points per possession (PPP), he was scoring at a league-leading volume on elite efficiency. What he was doing was highly impressive, to say the least.

Back before the Mavs' road matchup against the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 6, Mavs coach Jason Kidd made clear that Hardy 'has to wait' before receiving more playing time. A lot has changed since that comment was made. With injuries to key players coupled with the decision to waive Kemba Walker before his contract guarantee date, the anticipated opportunity has arrived for Hardy. 

"Those minutes are spoken for when you talk about Luka at 40, somebody is only going to be able to play eight," Kidd said on Dec. 6, amid calls for Hardy to receive more playing time. "Hardy has to wait, ask Josh (Green). Twitter isn't the coach or the player."

Hardy has still played just 141 total minutes of NBA action through 14 appearances. He's still early in the process of gaining not just playing time at the highest level of basketball but doing so within meaningful situations. He caught the attention of many by matching his career high of 15 points in consecutive games during the Mavs' matchups against the Boston Celtics and New Orleans Pelicans. 

“I feel like staying humble and staying confident in myself, and I feel like when those opportunities come, I’m ready," Hardy said when asked him about his comfort level as he gains more NBA playing time. "I’m just taking my time when I get out there and seeing everything.”

When evaluating Hardy's impact during his short time in NBA action, the top way that he's impacted the Mavs has been in providing another threat that can get to the rim. He has scored 36 points on drives — ranking sixth on the team despite being 14th in minutes played. Whether he's attacking off the catch, pushing the pace in transition, or breaking a defender down in space, he's been fearless in attacking the rim while achieving success with adequate spacing.

Hardy's improved finishing execution has been a welcomed sight considering it was among the areas that he needed work after his one and only season with the G League Ignite. The results have translated so far as he went from an output of 0.976 PPP with the Ignite to generating 1.342 PPP with the Mavs. What has contributed to this growth? 

“That’s just me staying true to my work and hours I put in the gym and sticking to it," Hardy said of his finishing improvement. "Doing the same thing I do in my workouts. Not being scared of anybody, just hoopin’. I’ve been doing this my whole life.”

It has been helpful for Hardy to play alongside Doncic, leading to opportunities to attack closeouts to utilize his aggressiveness and acrobatic finishing talent. Doing so has helped to prove that Hardy can be a strong complement to another creator that draws the primary attention of the defense.

"Attacking off the catch is something I have worked on," Hardy said of his focus on attacking closeouts. "Reading how my defender is playing me, reading where the defense is at, and making the right play."

Many have become impressed by Hardy's recent play, including his superstar teammate, Doncic. The three-time All-NBA First-Team recipient called his teammates a 'great player' and was particularly impressed by his downhill attacks.

“It was amazing,” Doncic said of Hardy’s play against the Pelicans. “He gave us the pace. It was just downhill all the time. They couldn’t stop him. He is a great player, and you can see it.”

Perhaps there is no greater display of Hardy's growing comfort level in the NBA than his isolation play against the New Orleans Pelicans while being defended by a versatile wing defender — Herb Jones. After drawing Jones on a switch, Hardy had his center — Christian Wood — spaced out to leave room to attack. Hardy used his crafty ball handling ability to create an initial advantage on a hesitation, then played through contact for a tough, inside-hand finish to protect the ball on the way up. That takes confidence, and lots of it. 

"Whenever anybody — whoever it is, is in front of me, being able to attack them and not being afraid," Hardy said of his willingness to embrace challenging matchups in isolation. "Just attack whoever is in front of me."

In speaking of confidence, Kidd shared his admiration for the mentality that Hardy holds. When highlighting the rookie's development since being drafted No. 37 overall, Kidd acknowledged the pressures of playing with a megastar like Doncic, but doing so doesn't faze Hardy. 

"(Hardy) has improved in every area," Kidd said of Hardy's development. "He's learning what it means to be a pro. You can see the product on the floor in the sense that he's not scared. He's a young man surrounded by a megastar, he feels like he fits right in. That's kind of cool."

Another display of Hardy's dynamic scoring potential occurred when attacking Grant Williams after a switch. With the goal for Williams likely being to play the drive, Hardy read that and used a right-to-left crossover to create a step-back 3-pointer. The end result was a whole lot of separation before getting into his shot against an impactful defender. 

"Really I'm looking at how the defender is playing me — trying to create space to get off my shot," Hardy said of what he looks for when getting into his step-back. "Just a little space needed for me to get my shot off."

Hardy explained further that he's been emphasizing creating more space on his step-back. However, there's been a focus to balance seeking out his shot and creating shots for teammates. 

"Just being able to break down my defenders and be able to play off trying to find my teammates and trying to get my shot at the same time," Hardy said of his focus on working on his step-back.

The scoring production that Hardy has provided the Mavs has been fascinating based on preseason expectations before his rookie campaign. His jump shot hasn't quite clicked yet, but that hasn't stopped him from being aggressive. So far, he's shot 8-25 from the floor (24.2 percent) on jumpers with an output of 0.697 PPP. At some point, his jump shooting talent will translate, but again, he's shown to be impactful despite those looks not dropping consistently.  

Among the next steps for Hardy will be to continue to gain a greater comfort level with attacking the paint when there is a rim protector in proper position to pressure the finish attempt, particularly in high pick-and-roll situations. Between executing those finishes and making passing reads, it's a focus area in his development. So far, he's shot 1-11 (9.1 percent) overall when using a high ball screen with an output of just 0.167 PPP.

"That's something I've been working on," Hardy said of being a pick-and-roll ball handler." When I'm coming off the pick-and-rolls, just read the defense and make the right reads."

The high pick-and-roll possessions that Hardy ran against the Oklahoma City Thunder serves as a microcosm for his ongoing development in this area. With Christian Wood as the No. 1 scoring option and feeling it against a team without a traditional center, he had Mike Muscala as a matchup in a spot to get the ball to make a play. Instead, Hardy attacked a loaded paint with the defense pre-rotated in help, ending in a block for Jalen Williams.

It can take time for a player to become fully acclimated with the capabilities of their peers. When attacking the lane against Evan Mobley for the first time, perhaps he's able to make a rotation and high point a block a bit quicker than what someone who has yet to challenge him would envision.   

As a guard, there can be a general trial and error that takes place when challenging wings on drives, especially when proper technique is used. Against the Thunder, Hardy didn't receive an advantage from a screen on an "Iverson" cut, but had an empty-corner to use. He drove hard left and was blocked after attempting to finish off one foot. Playing through contact, finishing off two when appropriate, and building short-range counters will be helpful. 

Right now, Hardy is undergoing the typical 'feel out' process that a rookie experiences. He feels as though he's gaining necessary confidence to get beat defenders out in space and to create opportunities for his teammates with his passing. His progression as this plays out will be something to monitor.

"Just being out there, getting more reps, and getting more comfortable out there," Hardy said regarding his willingness to attack tougher matchups." I'm starting to feel like having my confidence out there getting past defenders to find my teammates and to score the ball."

As Hardy continues to receive playing time with the Mavs, there are more opportunities for him to gain continuity within the offense. By doing so, the team can get increasingly more creative with techniques in how they deploy him in half-court actions. 

There was a recent play when Hardy was deployed as a "Ghost" screener — when a player comes to set a fake basketball, then sprints away into space. The Mavs have often utilized their shooters like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Reggie Bullock in these actions. Hardy poses more of a threat to attack the rim than those alternative options. If he can execute on the catch-and-shoot look, it further solidifies his value. Even more so when the Mavs can start playing the mismatch hunting at an increased rate by involving a drive threat on both ends.

"Just watching a bunch of film as you said, and then getting a bunch of reps at it," Hardy said of emulating half-court actions he could be utilized in. "Then when I get out there just doing the same thing and being confident in it."

In terms of creating quality shots for teammates, Hardy has shown an ability to do so when attacking within the progression of a possession. A prime display of this occurred when Hardy was attacking out in space in Oklahoma City, leading to a perfectly placed pass for Davis Bertans to step into a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer before a tight closeout. 

Hardy had an intriguing assist in an early season matchup against the Thunder, reading the defense ball watching as Dorian Finney-Smith was cutting. Hardy delivered the ball on time for Finney-Smith to capitalize for a quick catch and dunk. When there's an advantage to get the ball to a teammate on a drive, he tends to identify it.

As is the case offensively, it takes a real process to get acclimated to the responsibilities that come with playing a role defensively. Not only are the direct matchups more challenging to contain, there are schematic details that take time to grow accustomed to doing. He feels there's been growth in that area and takes pride in making an impact defensively.

"Just watching a lot of film, where I was messing up and making mistakes and trying to correct it," Hardy said of his defensive development process. "Defensive schemes, rotations, knowing where I'm supposed to be so I don't make mistakes when I'm out there."

Hardy's teammate, McKinley Wright IV, has spent a lot of time playing and practicing with him dating back to their participating with the Mavs' Las Vegas Summer League squad. The two have thrived alongside each other when playing for the Legends this season. What has Wright seen from Hardy?

"He's become a much better defender," Wright said of Hardy's development. "Coming into the season, when he first got here at training camp, you could tell that he's a flat out scorer. The coaches, they've known that obviously. He's become a much better defender. He's become a better playmaker."

Wood, a fellow Las Vegas native, has known Hardy before his NBA career began. As a veteran teammate, he's appreciative of how the rookie puts in work and responds to feedback.

"(Hardy) is one of those guys who responds well to criticism and peoples' opinions, especially with his teammates," Wood said of Hardy's development. "He adapts and he goes out and tries to prove himself. He tries to carry that chip on his shoulder. I think that's big, especially at a young age to try and do that. 

Wood expanded about Hardy: "He's always in the gym working. Always one of the last guys to leave. He's doing great this season. I've always been one of his biggest fans on the team, I think his time is gonna come.”

With an open-minded approach to feedback and a high work ethic, Hardy should continue to progress as he encounters typical rookie challenges. Having to experience those occurrences is a necessary part of the process for all NBA players. The Mavs' recent willingness to allow him to undergo that process in meaningful minutes could pay dividends in the future.

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