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Mavs Rookie ‘Gym Rat’ Jaden Hardy Excites in NBA Preseason Debut

Jaden Hardy led the Dallas Mavericks with 21 points in his preseason debut against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The 20-year-old rookie showed why the Mavs are thrilled to have drafted him with the No. 37 pick.

With the Dallas Mavericks missing a handful of key players in their preseason opener on Wednesday night — including team leader Luka Doncic — it opened up the opportunity for versatile big man Christian Wood to have the spotlight.

Wood did well, as he finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds in just 25 minutes, but it was rookie guard Jaden Hardy who stole the show in Dallas’ 98-96 win over the Thunder. Hardy scored 16 of his team-high 21 points in the fourth quarter to help seal the win for the Mavs. He shot 8-16 from the field, including 4-9 from deep.

“Once I get locked into a zone like that it’s hard to get me out of it. I’m just thinking that I’ve got it going, so I’m just thinking about making the right play. I’m just trying to make the right play, make the right read,” said Hardy.

Making the right read is something the Mavs coaching staff wanted Hardy to focus on during summer league play. Although his efficiency struggled in Las Vegas, he made some strides with his decision-making … and it appears that he’s improved even more since then.

“It shows the work that (Hardy has) put in since summer league. He spends a lot of time in the gym,” said coach Jason Kidd.

“He’s coming back at night, he’s working — not just on the floor — but watching video. He wants to be good, he wants to play, he wants to participate, and again you can see that in tonight’s game.”

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In other words, Hardy is a “gym rat,” which is exactly what you want a talented rookie with loads of potential to be. If he had chosen to sit out last season instead of playing in the G League, there’s a good chance he would’ve never fallen to the second round of the 2022 NBA Draft. But Hardy enjoyed his G League Ignite experience, and the Mavs are happy it worked out the way it did.

“I’ve been saying for a long time, Jaden Hardy is a steal. His confidence and his energy has been so great, and I’m really proud to see that,” said Wood, who has been friends with Hardy well before they joined forces on the Mavs.

“That’s what he does,” said Wood of Hardy’s fourth-quarter takeover. “Everybody has the ultimate confidence and believes in him, and as a young guy, he has very high confidence, and that’s what you love to see from a rookie.”

The Mavs came into training camp with question marks around their backup point guard position. Although it was just one preseason game, Hardy has a chance to carve out a spot in Kidd’s rotation sooner than many expected if this upward trajectory continues.

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