In one calendar year, Tim Hardaway Jr. has gone from just being an albatross contract to being a good player outperforming his deal.
Way back in January of this year, the Mavs pulled the trigger on a trade that got their rookie breakout, Luka Doncic, some help by acquiring 24-year-old Kristaps Porzingis to establish the Mavs for years to come. In that deal, the Mavs brought 3 additional players to balance out the deal that basically seemed like afterthoughts. Along with Porzingis, came Trey Burke, Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr.
Trey Burke was an expiring PG to help fill the spot left by Dennis Smith Jr. leaving in the trade. Courtney Lee was essentially traded ballast to balance out the contracts we sent out. And Tim Hardaway Jr. was the price the Mavs were paying to GET Kristaps Porzingis. His contract was in the way of the Knicks getting better players, so he became the 2.5 yr cost for the Mavs to get KP. The way most MFFLs looked at it, if we got KP, it almost didn’t matter if ever played a minute.
The Knicks had given THJ a 4 yr, $71M contract in 2017 to steal him away from the Hawks and had lived to regret the decision after 2 unsuccessful seasons. With them knowing KP wanted out, they attached their largest contract to the deal to clear cap space for years to come. Dallas took on his remaining $54.5M just to get a CHANCE at pairing KP with Luka long term. This was, by the books, the cost of doing business in the NBA.
In the remaining games of the 2018-2019 season, THJ only played 19 games and scored 15.5 but on a near career-low 32.1% from 3. It looked like Mavs fans were going to have to suffer through AT LEAST another year or potentially two of his poor play and big contract. He was not seeing love from the MFFL faithful this past offseason.
Well, as noted here at Mavs Nation, a change in his role has fully unlocked Tim’s hidden Super Sayan abilities that have nearly turned him into the team’s 2nd best scorer. Over the last 12 games, he is one-tenth of one point behind Kristaps Porzingis for the second spot on the Mavs in scoring. KP is scoring 14.7 PPG and THJ is scoring 14.6 PPG. In that span, Hardaway has shot 48.8% from the field, 43.4% from 3PT range, and shot 91.7% from the free-throw line. For those of you playing at home, those stats are quite nearly part of the 50-40-90 club that indicates an ELITE level scorer in the NBA.
All offseason, the question was whether or not the Mavs have a 3rd scoring option after Luka and KP and it seems Hardaway has answered that call. He has tweaked his mental approach to play with his new star teammates. The coaching staff has helped him change his shot some by squaring his shoulders more on his jump shot and it’s been hugely rewarding for him personally and the team overall. And don’t forget that he was shut down with an injury the last few weeks of the season and later had offseason surgery to correct a leg issue he’d been playing with for at least a year.
So over the course of 1 full calendar year, Tim Hardaway is scorching hot and a vital piece not only on offense but also as a starting level defender who is a team-first guy who is also presented as a vocal team leader on and off the court. What’s not to like?? He’s been producing up to and potentially better than his contract dictates and he has fully bought into what the team has asked. THJ has turned into a very valuable player for this Mavericks team.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN??
Having a player like THJ outperform expectations is how good teams get to be great teams year to year. Even with Kawhi last year, you don’t see the Raptors win a championship without Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam produce at a level better than their contracts indicate they should.
Well, the Mavs have Dorian Finney-Smith playing far beyond his $4M/yr contract starting next to THJ doing the same with his $17M, this is a recipe for a team to excel down the stretch.
A Good Problem to Have
It’s always good to have things going right and to enjoy the moment, but it’s a sports world that never stops looking at the big picture. It just so happens that Timmy’s hot streak has led perfectly into the start of the NBA trade season. This is not to say that the Mavs SHOULD trade Tim Hardaway Jr. because of all of the reasons listed in the paragraphs above, but it’s very nice to have a piece like him upping the Mavs’ trade stock IN CASE something PERFECT comes along.
THJ is helping this team in major ways right now, but if there’s a potential to trade him for a player the front office has wanted to pair with Luka and KP, his excellent play could not have better timing.
An Interesting Problem to Have
However, this does put another wrinkle in the Mavs future planning if his hot streak can hold all year. IF (and this is a big IF) he can maintain this level of production and help the Mavs on a decent playoff run, does Tim Hardaway Jr. opt out of his player option next year in hopes of a long-term deal? As it’s been established that he’s outperforming his current deal, he COULD opt out of his final player option year in hopes of signing a BIGGER and LONGER contract similar to the Harrison Barnes 4yr/$85M contract he signed with the Kings this offseason.
If THJ were to do this, the Mavs would be forced to decide whether to commit big-time money to Tim Hardaway in hopes that his production would continue OR let him walk in hopes of acquiring a big fish like Giannis the following year. His contract that the Knicks were dying to get out from under is potentially a good thing as it stands now for the Mavs, yet could get tricky by this summer. NBA contracts are wild.
This might all be a flash in the pan as this is all from a 12 game sample size from a player who has NEVER put up these kinds of numbers before and a regression to the mean should be expected. However, he’s shown no indication that this is a fluke since receiving his new role in the starting lineup and it’s at least worth thinking about what he’s ACTUALLY worth to this team. Right now, he’s our second or third best scorer.
The Mavs are on pace for 57 wins after 2 years in the lottery. They are 3rd in the Western Conference and the team seems fully capable of actually getting better.
This story might be a sports version of “One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure” or it could be a matter of extrapolating a really small sample size, but either way, Tim Hardaway Jr. is on fire right now and we all get to go along for the ride.
Featured Image: Clutchpoints/Associated Press