While the Mavs are re-signing their team and making offseason additions, there has been almost no talk of its 2nd highest paid player, Tim Hardaway Jr.
Back on January 31st, the Mavs got the 7’3” Unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis, in a trade that shocked the NBA. Now that he’s locked up long term over the next 5 years, the front office has been looking to add shooting around him and his 20-year-old Rookie of the Year running mate, Luka Doncic. They’ve already locked up the 3rd best 3pt shooter in the NBA with Seth Curry, and are still looking to sign Danny Green, who was the 2nd best 3pt shooter last year. The team plans to have dynamic scorers and are looking to fill many holes in the roster, but it seems there is one person who has been perpetually overlooked: Tim Hardaway Jr.
Tim Hardaway was a part of the KP trade back in January and was viewed as, essentially, the tax for acquiring the ultra-talented young big man as the Knicks sought to get off his $18M contract. Timmy is currently the Mavs second-highest paid player, now that KP has agreed to his 5 year, $158M max contract, but he doesn’t have a defined role on the roster next year. While he was a throw-in, he’s not an entirely useless piece. He’s not Joakim Noah over here, he scored 18.1 points per game last year. For a team that was 21st in the NBA in scoring last year, the Mavericks need all the points they can muster and THJ can fill it up in bunches on occasion, so why isn’t he discussed more as part of what this team is trying to do?
The reason, if it has to be just one, is that Tim Hardaway Jr. is an imperfect player. He can score in lots of ways, but none of them consistently. He does lots of things decently, but you can’t really point to anything he does exceedingly well. Ignoring the contract and only focusing on basketball, reveals him to be an athlete who has not definable skill. Since joining the Mavs, he’s been below average on 3pt shooting (32.1%), rebounding (3.4), assists (2.4), and free throw shooting (76.7). However, none of those percentages are AWFUL either. What it boils down to is a very average player.
His numbers dipped after he left New York and that can be contributed to not being the primary scoring option, a new team, a new town, a new system or a team with slightly more upside than the 17 win Knicks. All of these can contribute to his lower numbers, however, none of these numbers are truly outside of the norm for full seasons in his career. This is, primarily, who he is. It was revealed, however, that THJ had suffered a stress fracture in his leg sometime through the course of the season which probably inhibited him a decent bit as well.
Which brings us back to the initial issue of what to do with THJ. If we land Danny Green or Marcus Morris over the next few days, there won’t be a wing position available for him in the starting lineup. A starting lineup of Luka, Seth Curry, Danny Green, KP and either Powell or Kleber would likely be our starting 5, sliding THJ down to play with the second unit. And that is more than likely the intent of the front office. As stated earlier, he scores in spurts and then goes cold. He has only posted a positive defensive rating of +2 when he played for the Hawks from 15-17, so defense is clearly not his M.O. either. All of this sounds distinctly like a microwave off the bench to fill it up and then sit down for another 15 minutes.
This solution presents an opportunity to maximize his athleticism and scoring on the second unit where defenses will be far less stingy and let him get his buckets with less opposition. He would be either the first or second option with Brunson or JJ running the second unit point and rim rollers like Powell or Maxi to bail out possessions. Once he knows he’s relegated to the second unit, he can develop a rapport with those folks and hopefully, the Mavs can help refine some of the run and gun bad habits he’s developed and turn him into an effective scorer off the bench.
Being one of the main scoring options for New York last year and the year before when KP went down, he has become a shooter that needs to establish his own rhythm and dribble 3-6 times per possession to be his most effective. Think Wes Matthews in his final year with the Mavs. He was somewhat successful off the dribble, but seeing Wes dribbling was not where his offense was most effective. Wes was MOST successful in catch and shoot situations (no dribbling) where he shot 41.2% from 3 and an effective field goal percentage of 60.5% and above. For comparison, THJ shot 31.7% on catch and shoot 3s and 43.1% after dribbling 3-6 times bot with effective field goal percentages <50%. This indicates he’s too used to being THE man. In Dallas, he has to adjust to a different role. This role can either elevate his game to where he becomes a useful piece in Dallas’ rebuild as a solid spot-up shooter OR it can expose him to be an ISO ballplayer who isn’t fit for the current NBA.
THJ has skills, but not really one he can hang his hat on, and that’s the problem. The work he does this offseason, knowing full well what he’s getting into, will dictate whether he becomes the Mavs’ next Jason Terry off the bench or if he will just be the face of his bad contract. With 6 years under his belt, this very well could be who he is, but if THJ wants to remain a part of this team and in this league, it has reached an “adapt or die” situation for him.
For the Mavericks, it is less than ideal for your second highest paid player to ride the pine, but this upcoming season is about what is best for Luka and KP, so if THJ doesn’t make himself into a player that does what his team needs, he will have no choice but to sit. And sit.
And sit. Until he’s traded, stretched or waived. No one wants that, including THJ. He wants to play for a team on the rise for once in his basketball career and he’s finally got an opportunity to do that as long as he’s willing to accept his new place as the scoring punch that defines the second unit.
Note: THJ should be healthy by training camp according to initial reports after his surgery, but we all know how that went with Seth Curry’s last year in Dallas with a stress fracture. Hopefully, he’s back on time and can develop a great tandem with Brunson off the bench.
Featured Image: AP/ Tony Gutierrez