Jaden Hardy’s path to the Dallas Mavericks was nothing short of unexpected. A former elite prospect in his draft class, Hardy’s one-season detour with the NBA G-League Ignite left his game with more questions than answers and gave the Mavericks the opportunity to draft him in the second round. . While it was unclear on draft night that the Mavericks would officially be without Jalen Brunson and fewer balls going forward, the situation in Dallas could be fortuitous for Hardy. Especially with Jason Kidd coaching the team.
The 20-year-old playmaker has had a flying start in his summer league. He started slow but quickly showed a dynamic set of NBA-level scoring skills, scoring 28 points and nearly knocking down a game-winner beating the buzzer. It was hard not to overreact to his game and put him in a rotation for his rookie season.
The rest of his summer league, however, was mixed, shooting 27% from three and just 35% from the floor. His raw skills showed just how raw they were, and while it’s clear his potential, it’s also obvious how far he needs to go.
If that same performance had taken place two or three summers ago, with Rick Carlisle leading the Mavericks from the bench, I would have told you that Hardy would be sent to the end of the bench for the next nine months. The former Mavericks head coach was notoriously tough on rookies and inexperienced players, especially ball handlers. He had a very specific system, ideas about how each player worked on the pitch, and there was a tight leash for those who slipped or interfered. Carlisle was often right about how his system worked, but after he left it was clear from returning players that his being right was not always to the benefit of the experience of the team as a whole.
To his credit, while the Mavericks really set out to rebuild the team for the future during the final years of Dirk Nowitzki’s tenure, Carlisle gave promising young players some opportunity and freedom. His playing time and room to grow is what gives us the Dorian Finney-Smith (81 games played in his freshman year) of today. Those seasons gave a handful of raw players a chance to grow on the pitch, though not all of them were traditional rookies. Yes, that includes handing the reins to Dennis Smith Jr. in 2017, or an opportunity for 26-year-old rookie Maxi Kleber and 82 complete games for 24-year-old Yogi Ferrell (his only full season with the Mavericks). But those players also received that space from Carlisle on a team that was tanking, where the stakes were pretty low from game to game.
When Jason Kidd took over in the summer of 2021, he made it clear that his focus was on empowering gamers to make games. At the time, it sounded like a general coaching speech – and yes, it might have been a bit – but throughout the season it has held true for better or for worse. This led to a boost in the game for Jalen Brunson, for his part, making him more than just an attacking general. It also led to a hands-off approach in regular season games to let players on the field find their way on their own. Sometimes it led to wins, other times it didn’t. But it was an effort to give players the confidence that they can make mistakes and learn from them. Something he wanted in his playing days:
“As a player, I didn’t like time outs,” Kidd said. “The big picture is to prepare to have all the answers for the playoffs. The general rehearsal is that there will be times when things don’t go well. I don’t take time out. We have to figure it out on the floor.
This brings us back to Hardy. In his other head coaching stops, Kidd hasn’t had many rookie goalies or ball handlers to coach. He coached Malcolm Brogdon when he entered the league with the still young and developing Milwaukee Bucks. Brogdon, exceptionally old and having had his rookie season, played 75 games en route to rookie of the year. It’s hard to use that as a template for Hardy, who will be four years younger than Brogdon that season and play for a Mavericks team that just made it to the Western Conference Finals.
Still, expect Hardy to have an opportunity this season, even if it’s not a nighttime role. Her relationship and development under Kidd will be an interesting subplot for this season. The potential is there for Hardy, and Kidd will now have his own opportunity to step up by allowing a young player to learn in real time.