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EXCLUSIVE: G League Ignite Coach Talks Mavs ‘Top-10 Talent’ Jaden Hardy

To gain insight into the development of Dallas Mavericks rookie Jaden Hardy, spoke to G League Ignite head coach Jason Hart in a 1-on-1 interview.

After being projected to be selected as a top-five pick during his high school career, Jaden Hardy fell to the second round following his only campaign with the G League Ignite, resulting in the Dallas Mavericks acquiring the No. 37 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft to be able to select him. During his rookie season, he's shown the type of potential that makes his draft fall look foolish.

Hardy was considered as being a consensus five-star recruit in high school. ESPN had ranked him as being the top guard and No. 2 player in the nation in the class of 2021. He bypassed collegiate offers form Kentucky and UCLA, among others, to join the Ignite. He ended up falling to the second round after his season with the Ignite. He's already shown flashes of potential with the Mavs, such as three performances with at least 15 points despite receiving limited opportunities. 

When Hardy arrived at the G League Ignite for his one season with the organization, current G League Ignite coach Jason Hart already understood his strengths and weaknesses from his experience recruiting Hardy as an assistant coach at USC. The goal was for Hardy to play through mistakes going up against high level competition as he figured out how he could make an impact ahead of his NBA career.

"I recruited him in high school at USC, so I was already familiar with his game — a lot of his strengths and his weaknesses," Hart told regarding his experience with Hardy's background. 

"He's the ultimate scorer. He's been that since he's been playing high school basketball. As he gets bigger and stronger, he is just going to be on another level. Last year, he was able to develop here — play through mistakes and figure out what his NBA game was. That was our goal for him last year." 

Hart wanted to emphasize that Hardy did not get to experience a traditional senior year of playing basketball. Being that Hardy was in the Las Vegas area, they were among the cities to put sports on pause during the Covid pandemic. Instead, he spent the year mostly just working out to prepare for playing professional basketball.

"One thing that I want to point out that people don't give him credit for is that he didn't play his senior year of high school because of Covid," said Hart of Hardy's non-traditional senior year of high school. "His year with (the G League Ignite) was his year to work out the kinks. He missed his senior year of high school, then he came to us.

Hart explained further: "This is his first year within the last four years playing two years of basketball back to back. He didn't get his senior year of basketball because of Covid. I don't think people understand that's kind of tough to not play. Being that he was in Vegas, now, if he was in a different state in the south or in the east, he would have been playing, but in the west, they shut down high school basketball."

Despite not playing competitive basketball in his senior year of high school, Hardy went on to average 19.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.2 steals in 32.6 minutes per game in 25 appearances with the G League Ignite in 2021-22. He did so with .376/.309/.794 shooting splits, which raised questions about his ability to be efficient, particularly as a finisher around the basket.

There has never been doubts about Hardy's scoring ability. However, a point of emphasis with the G League Ignite was for him to continue to improve his shot selection. With greater comfort level with the competition level in his second season, there's been significant progression achieved in just a year. 

"He had the ultimate green light (to score), so what we tried to teach him when and when not to (look to score) — what's a good shot, what's a bad shot? He showed growth through that as the season went on," said Hart of Hardy's development with the G League Ignite. "This year, obviously, he went to the G League and leading in scoring and people were surprised, but he went to the G League last year and averaged 20 points per game. Any time you start in Year 2 in anything, for any basketball player, you'll get better in Year 2. None of us were surprised that he led the G League in scoring because he averaged 20 last year as an 18-year-old."

When accounting for all of the factors that went into influencing the outcome, Hart was surprised that Hardy went No. 37 overall in the 2022 NBA Draft. Hart has always felt that Hardy was a "top-10 talent."

"I was very surprised, but one thing I think about our players at the Ignite, they get judged really hard," said Hart of where Hardy got drafted. "They judge our guys as if they are already pros not knowing that they are supposed to be in college, too. There is a multitude of guys that went to college and they are the same as him with nowhere near the talent. He got drafted where he got drafted, now he's got to make the best of it, but we all were surprised. We thought Jaden was a top-10 talent, obviously. That's why he came to the Ignite."

Hart believes that a culmination of factors ultimately caused Hardy's draft stock to drop, which resulted in an outcome that many NBA teams are going to regret with Hardy falling to the second round. Between not having a traditional senior year of high school basketball coupled with being judged hard in the G League Ignite, a steal was created.

"When they dig in there, they never dig to that part. He did not play his senior year, he just worked out," said Hart regarding where NBA teams went wrong. "So that was a year off of playing basketball then he came year, played at the highest level, they judged him hard, then he went second round. Now, everybody is going to be kicking themselves in the butt because he's a great young man. He's going to continue to grow and learn the game as he gets older."

As someone who speaks from experience, Hart explained that playing against grown men as opposed to other college basketball players is naturally going to translate to tougher circumstances when striving for success. However, by doing so, it can translate to greater preparation for the NBA level due to having to overcome greater challenges.

"I played 10 years in the NBA and these guys are playing against real NBA guys trying to get back up," said Hart, when explaining the key difference in playing for the G League Ignite. "If you took a high school freshman and played them against Lance Stephenson, Trey Burke, or Shabazz Napier, they wouldn't have anywhere near the same success on a nightly basis.

“These guys when they come to the NBA, they're more ready. Look at Dyson Daniels. Look at Marjon Beauchamp. Look at these guys who played in G League, NBA type games. We have one now with Scoot Henderson. Sometimes we judge too hard but he's still 18 and he's averaging like 23 points per game. I don't know what they expect an 18 year old to do in a pro setting right away when 18 year olds in college average nine points and go in the top 15. It doesn't make any sense."

Hardy has already made significant strides in his development, which is evidenced by his robust production with the Texas Legends this season compared to his time with the G League Ignite. In 11 games with the Legends, Hardy averaged 28.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.6 assists on .549/.490/.864 shooting splits. Hart is not surprised by the progression that Hardy has achieved being someone who is familiar with the rookie's "crazy, insane work ethic." 

"He's going to keep working because he has a crazy, insane work ethic, so he's going to continue to get better because he works. But also, just getting the experience. Getting the experience of playing these games, seeing what this level is about obviously. I look at him as a scoring guard and then he'll be able to contribute to the Mavs for a long a time because once he understands it and gets it, the sky will be the limit."

When comparing and contrasting the responsibilities that draft prospects in the G League face versus their college basketball counterparts, among the differentiating factors is the greater visibility they face. It ties into the element of being judged on a harsher scale. 

"There's more visibility," said Hart, when asked about the differences of access for an Ignite player versus a collegiate player. "Each NBA team can watch an Ignite player every night because he's either playing your team or another team. Their games are visible as opposed to — you can watch college games on Synergy but you get to see Ignite guys nightly because they play an NBA style schedule with four games per week."

Some have questioned the ideal position or role for Hardy to play in the NBA. Like Kidd, Hart views Hardy as a combo guard that can play some point guard "in a pinch" like Jordan Clarkson or Jordan Poole. Both of those guards provide their teams with a needed scoring punch as their focus, but can initiate a possession when needed.

"Jaden is a combo guard. Just a scoring guard. You'll have that. You don't have to try to box him in, he's a combo guard. His biggest gift is scoring. Now, he has to know when he's not open to pass it. He's no different than how Jordan Clarkson is used. He can play point guard in a pinch, but ultimately Jordan Clarkson is a scoring guard. Same with Jordan Poole, is he a point guard? No. He's a scoring guard. He can play point sometimes, but ultimately he's a scoring guard and it's about knowing when (to look to score) and when not to."

It took time for Hardy to receive meaningful minutes from the Mavs during his rookie campaign. By starting the season on the bench, he was able to observe and evaluate where he could make an impact when receiving the opportunity he's now receiving. Hart has confidence that Hardy will only continue to grow into his role. 

"He understands, just watching the game, from sitting there a lot not playing his game, he understands that it's Luka's team," said Hart of Hardy's acclimation process with the Mavs. "So now you have to find you rhythm and your way with other good players. That's with all young players. They have to come in and be effective and I think his role, it'll be when he's open to shoot it. And when you get a lane, you have to attack it to give Luka a breather at times so he doesn't have to work as hard."

Based on what has been seen so far this season, Hardy has shown a willingness to be coached, work hard, and to do what he needs to do to make an impact for his team. With an older roster around Doncic, the dynamic potential that Hardy possesses is a needed element to the team as they build the team, especially following the departure of Jalen Brunson. 

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