The Dallas Mavericks have traded back into the 2022 draft to select Jaden Hardy, a 6’4 combo guard who most recently played for the G-League Ignite. A 5-star recruit out of Detroit, Hardy decided to forego college basketball and play for the Ignite, a developmental team affiliated with the G-League.
Hardy was very much on the NBA Draft radar after a stellar junior season at Coronado High School in Nevada (he moved there from Detroit just before attending), where he averaged over 30 points a game and was named Gatorade Nevada Player of the Year. Ranked second overall on ESPN’s Top 100 recruits, it was reported that he had offers from major programs like Kentucky and UCLA, but opted the G-League route, following in the footsteps of players like last draft’s No. 2 overall pick, Jalen Green.
Unlike Green, Hardy’s plan didn’t deliver the same rewards, as Jaden struggled somewhat in his 25 games with the Ignite, shooting just 37.3% from the field and 28.5% from three. Most NBA talent evaluators do not believe those numbers represent his true talent level, which is why Hardy received a green room invitation to the draft, after being mocked fairly consistently in the top 25.
When his shot is falling, Hardy can score, pure and simple. While not the most explosive athlete, at 6’4 with a 6’9 wingspan, Hardy has the size and ballhandling skill to create off the dribble and get to his spots, either attacking out of the pick and roll, or operating from the triple threat position. For a 19-year-old, he has an impressive assortment of dribble moves, especially preferring the hang dribble or step back to set up his jumper. He made 88% of his free throws and shot 50% on unguarded catch and shoot threes, so there’s reason for optimism about his shooting even if the results were not always there in small sample size. He averaged 22 points with a 52 true shooting percentage in his final 10 games, showing that he improved as the season went on.
The two main areas of concern are the turnovers, which were often of the head-scratching variety, and its 50-ish% conversion rate at the rim, which is not great. Hardy is probably going to live and die by the jumpshot, and it will be incumbent upon him to work on his floater game, as well as just making better decisions with the basketball once in the paint. Defensively, Hardy is not a standout, and without elite athletic traits, he may be limited to checking fellow guards exclusively at the next level. While he was billed as a top-tier shooter coming out of school, and tasked with being one of the featured options on the G-League Ignite, it seems fairly clear he wasn’t quite ready for that role. What’s worse, the workload on offense may have affected his focus at the other end; there were times where he was caught standing around, ball-watching, not even in a stance. These are of course things you can say about most 19 year old prospects.
Fit in Dallas
I’ll be honest: I’m a little surprised at this selection. Not because I think Hardy isn’t talented, or doesn’t represent great value at pick 37, but because this is a player who will probably need time to develop, and doesn’t necessarily offer the kind of skillset that would give him a clear role on a team that just went to the Western Conference Finals. With the Ignite, he was one of the main ballhandlers, and did a lot of his work in isolation with the clock running down. That’s not going to happen in the NBA (at least not anytime soon). However, if he can hone his shooting, cut down on the bad shots / forced passes, and deliver on the promise he displayed back in high school, then there’s a chance he could carve out a role as a sparkplug bench guard, who can shoot off the dribble or off screens, while adding in passable value as a secondary playmaking / passer. The talent is in there, I just hope the Mavericks have a plan for how to surface it.
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