Trial and error is part of every life. And every NBA season.
Rick Carlisle has learned that lesson time and again after nearly two decades as a head coach.
It happened this season with Tim Hardaway Jr. and his role on the Mavericks.
What’s happened in the last two months is that Hardaway has established himself as a dependable shooter who can take advantage of defenses when they crowd Luka Doncic or race to cover Kristaps Porzingis and maybe forget that Hardway is waiting in the wings to take wide-open shots.
He’s averaged 16.5 points in the 26 games he’s started since Nov. 20. And he’s shot 43.1 percent from 3-point territory.
Hard tp believe he started this season as a sixth man.
Carlisle went so far as to visit Hardaway at his Florida home during the summer to discuss the situation and gauge the 6-5 veteran’s willingness to the idea of coming off the bench.
Hardaway, being the team player he is, was OK with anything that would make the team better. But he can say now that it didn’t feel exactly right for him.
“It was tough, I’m not going to lie,” Hardaway said after pouring in 29 points Friday in the 120-112 win over Portland. “I wasn’t getting the looks I was hoping to get. I was battling through stuff and just trying to force a little here and there.
“I knew that wasn’t my game. An opportunity presented itself. I tried to make the most of it. And here we are today.”
Hardaway had come off the bench for the first 13 games when Seth Curry was starting in the backcourt alongside Doncic.
But when Curry became ill for a couple of games before Thanksgiving, Carlisle went with Hardaway in the starting lineup.
It’s been that way ever since. But Carlisle is glad the Mavericks reached this point the way they did.
“He’s an NBA starter, there’s no question about that,” he said. “The question was whether or not it would be better for the team for him to play in the sixth man role or to be a starter. We gave it an honest look for a significant number of games early in the year.
“(When he got the starts for Curry), it was pretty clear that it was probably the way we should go. And the great thing about it was when I talked to Seth about it, he was great. He said he understood and wanted to do whatever was best for the team.”
Carlisle then drew a comparison to 2011, when DeShawn Stevenson was having a solid season, but he got moved to a sixth-man role in the playoffs. That ended up paying huge dividends for both Stevenson and the Mavericks.
“We needed everybody,” Carlisle said, “and we need that kind of spirit on this team as well.”
Hardaway now averages 14.4 points for the season and he’s shooting 39 percent from 3-point range. Curry has found the benefits of coming off the bench and has had vital moments carrying the second unit.
The Mavericks may yet evolve again. Nobody knows what the future holds. But for now, starting Hardaway clearly has been the best move.
“I played both in Atlanta – I’ve started, come off the bench,” Hardaway said. “I just had to make sure I knew how to get myself involved and pick and choose my spots.”
It can be done. But for Hardaway and the Mavericks, it’s clearly better with him as a starter.
Briefly: The Mavericks rested on Saturday after three games in four days. They will resume practices Sunday . . . The Mavericks will try to build on their four-game winning streak Tuesday when the Los Angeles Clippers visit American Airlines Center . . . How Kristaps Porzingis does in practices on Sunday and Monday could go a long way toward determining if he will be able to return to action this week. He’s missed 10 consecutive games with right knee soreness.