Lost in all the excitement over the Kristaps Porzingis blockbuster was the addition of one Tim Hardaway Jr., a 26-year-old sharpshooter averaging better than 19 points per game this season. For his career, Hardaway has averaged 13 points on 49% shooting and 34% from beyond the arc, though if you set aside his 2015-16 campaign (his first with Atlanta), his points per game average leaps to 14.6. A nice line, to be sure, but nothing that would really turn heads around the league, as was the case with another former Maverick, Monta Ellis.
Monta Ellis arrived in Dallas heading into the 2013-14 season, holding a career average of 19 points per game. A 6’3 athletic slasher, Ellis was viewed as a volume scorer and a defensive sieve, hardly the type of difference-making player the Mavs had blown up their 2011 championship team to acquire. To most, Ellis’s 3 year, $25 million contract was little more than a consolation prize given Dallas’ tremendous hopes in its free agency recruitment of guys like Dwight Howard. But a funny thing happened when the 27-year-old took the court as a member of the Dallas Mavericks: he almost instantly clicked with franchise cornerstone, Dirk Nowitzki.
Although Ellis was never viewed as an outside scorer, shooting just 29.4% from beyond the arc and connecting on at least 50% of his field goals just once over his previous 9 seasons, Ellis was more than capable of forming a devastating pick and pop combo with Nowitzki. Thanks to his elite quickness, Ellis could blaze past opponents off of one of Dirk’s screens if his man tried to go over the top of the screen. This was further benefited by Nowitzki’s Hall of Fame worthy jump shot and mid-range game forcing his man to stick to him or suffer the consequences. What often resulted was an open lane for Ellis, something he more often than not was able to capitalize on thanks to his knack for finishing inside despite his somewhat diminutive stature. If opponents did sag back on Dirk’s screens, be it Ellis’s man going underneath or Dirk’s man dropping back to help, Ellis would find Dirk and let the big German go to work. And if opponents were actually foolish enough to try and switch on the screen, both Nowitzki and Ellis were more than capable of abusing the mismatch. During his two, short seasons with the Mavericks, Ellis would average 19 points per game and even become the go-to option in many clutch situations despite Nowitzki still playing at a very high level.
So why do I compare Hardaway Jr, a better outside shooter and lesser slasher to Ellis?
Like Ellis, one of the bigger knocks on Hardaway Jr is his inefficient scoring and lack of defensive prowess. While such assessments are fair, they disregard the rest of the equation. With Luka Doncic effectively running the show in Dallas this year, the Mavs have rocketed up to number 3 in the league for “unguarded” 3 point shots. These are defined as shots with at least four feet of separation between shooter and defender. This is largely due to Doncic’s elite vision and passing ability, keeping defenses honest with his own scoring and then guessing with regard to his intended target. It’s why guys like Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews have enjoyed a noticeable bump in their three point looks and percentages. Hardaway should enjoy that same boost.
With Luka Doncic and Harrison Barnes being Dallas’s leading scoring options now, and Porzingis’s debut likely at the start of next season, Hardaway’s responsibility and workload will scale back even further to a fourth scoring option. That’s a benefit he couldn’t enjoy as much in New York, and one that should allow him to draw better match ups and address some of those efficiency concerns. But there’s another reason I liken Hardaway’s potential impact to Ellis; the aforementioned pick and roll game.
Although Dirk is in the midst of what is believed to be his final season, the Mavericks remain a pick and roll-heavy offense. And under Knicks coach David Fizdale this season, Hardaway’s game has grown this season. Acting frequently as the ball handler, THJ has accounted for close to 30% of his offensive possessions, per Synergy. I know what you’re thinking: “But what’s he done in those situations?”
Acting as the primary ball handler in pick and roll situations this season, Tim Hardaway Jr ranks ninth in scoring efficiency among 51 players with at least 200 such possessions. That’s better than the likes of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Kemba Walker, and Bradley Beal. Yeah, he’s been good in that area.
While most of the league has fallen out-of-love with the mid-range game, electing for their shots right at the basket or threes upon threes upon “do we need to implement a four-point line?”, Hardaway continues to find success in that area, scoring more effectively on pull up jumpers than James Harden, Devin Booker, and Kyrie Irving according to Synergy. That’s not insignificant.
So while THJ’s role here in Dallas won’t be as big as Ellis’s Robin to Dirk’s Batman, there is a fair bit of resemblance in the ways in which they can help the Mavs attack opposing teams and the big-shot-making impacts they’re capable of on any given night. So while Porzingis was clearly the prized acquisition in this deal, Hardaway’s potential impact can’t be overlooked, especially not with him poised to insert directly into the starting lineup in relief of the now-traded Wesley Matthews.
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