Tim Hardaway Jr.’s play has been a gauge of Mavericks’ success this season, which isn’t ideal for Dallas

With the Atlanta Hawks leading the Dallas Mavericks 90-81 at the end of the third quarter on Feb. 10, Tim Hardaway Jr. checked into the game for the Mavs to start the fourth and rattled off seven straight points to bring them within two points. Minutes later, he drilled a 3-pointer to tie the game at 101 apiece, and Dallas later went on to win after being down by as much as 13 points, largely on the back of Hardaway’s 13-point, fourth-quarter performance.

It’s become somewhat of a theme for the Mavericks this season, where Hardaway comes off the bench to ignite a scoring burst of his own to either bring them back from a deficit, or his shooting helps apply pressure on the opposing team in a tight game. In fact, you can almost tie Dallas’ success to how well Hardaway plays in that game.









Despite being moved to a sixth-man role, Hardaway is still getting starter minutes, and Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle has said before that Dallas really has six starters with Hardaway. That’s true, as the former Knick has started for the entirety of his career, mainly on bad teams. 

However, the highs of Hardaway’s shooting also come with some lows. While he can get hot in a hurry, putting up an efficient 24 points in a win, he also has the tendency to go freezing cold and put up poor shooting performances. This is all reflected in Dallas’ record this season.

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Hardaway’s 3-point shooting makes him an ideal floor spacer, who can come in and knock down shots and provide some energy, whether that be as a starter or off the bench. But he’s a streaky shooter with a tendency to try and do too much, which results in ill-advised shots or turnovers. He’s a good role player, but not someone who should be completely relied upon to win you games.

However, Hardaway has in many ways been Dallas’ second-most important player on a number of occasions this season. Although his shooting efficiency is down compared to his numbers in 2019-20, where he was among the league’s best spot-up shooters, ranking in the 94th percentile on 1.274 points per possession, he still generates 1.12 points per possession on spot-up jumpers and is Dallas’ best 3-point shooter (39.3 percent).

The issue is he can’t be the second-best player on this team; the Mavericks just won’t go far if that’s the case. While it’s great that the Mavs have seen success when Hardaway gets hot, it would be even better for Dallas if his performance didn’t often determine the outcome of the game. That’s not to say Hardaway shouldn’t be putting up his average of 16 points a night. He’s definitively the third option on this team, but his performance shouldn’t sway each game so heavily. 

Hardaway’s impact on the game actually speaks to a larger issue with Dallas this season, in that it isn’t getting enough consistent production out of several other players.

Josh Richardson is averaging just 12.5 points, the lowest since his third season in the league, while shooting a career-low 29.6 percent from 3-point territory and 42.3 percent from the field. He bumped Hardaway from the starting lineup and hasn’t provided nearly enough on offense on a consistent basis, despite his tough defense. Dorian Finney-Smith has gotten back on track with his 3-point shooting, but he’s also experienced great inconsistencies this season.

Kristaps Porzingis has upped his efficiency from 3-point range as of late and has been more productive on offense, like his 36-point outing against the Pelicans. But there are still questions on if he can be a reliable No. 2 option alongside Doncic due to his injury history. He’s shown that he can do it in spurts, but the Mavericks need him to do it over the course of a full season and the playoffs.

All three of these players have missed chunks of time this season due to COVID-19 protocols or injury, which has played a factor in their slow starts. But with Richardson, Finney-Smith and Porzingis struggling to find their shots at different points of the season, the Mavericks have had to rely heavily on Doncic and Hardaway to keep this team in the playoff hunt. 

For Doncic, it’s expected that he’ll consistently put up 25 or more points a game as the centerpiece of this team, but to expect that Hardaway will put up 20 points a night off the bench is outlandish. Dallas needs to get to a point where if Hardaway puts up only eight points, it won’t significantly hinder the outcome of the game. A perfect example of that was the Mavericks’ last win over the Pelicans, in which Doncic and Porzingis combined for 82 points, and Richardson and Finney-Smith both scored in double figures. Hardaway only had eight points in the game, but Dallas still won. 

Hardaway is going to have nights where he goes off for 20, as well as performances where he only puts up five points in an inefficient game, but the Mavs need his scoring to just be an added bonus off the bench, not a significant reason why this team wins or loses.

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