When Rick Carlisle visited Tim Hardaway Jr. this past summer at Hardaway’s home in Miami, one very important thing the Dallas Mavericks’ coach wanted to discuss was his role on the team for the 2019-’20 season.
And part of that discussion centered around possibly moving Hardaway from being the team’s starting shooting guard to coming off the bench to provide a spark. So how did that part of the discussion go?
“This summer I went down to Miami for a day-and-a-half and spent time with him and talked about the season and talked to him about the possibility of coming off the bench,” Carlisle said after Monday’s practice at the Lympo practice facilities. “He was great about it.
“I said, ‘We’ll look at everything and do ultimately what was best for the team.’ What’s best for the team is him starting, and it’s happened organically. It’s kind of evolved to this. But I love the way he’s playing.”
Indeed, Hardaway has jumped to the forefront and proven that he can continue in the starting role he had after the Mavs acquired him from the New York Knicks in that blockbuster trade on Jan. 31. In this world of analytics, Hardaway has shown that his numbers tell a very wholesome story.
Over the past three games since he’s been in the starting lineup, Hardaway has averaged 22.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in just 26 minutes per game. During that three-game span he also is shooting a healthy 66.7 percent from the field (22-of-33), and an even healthier 65 percent from 3-point range (13-of-20).
By contrast, in the previous six games (combined) before he was elevated to the starting lineup, Hardaway averaged just 9.8 points and 1.8 rebounds and shot a frosty 31.8 percent from the floor (21-of-66) and only 27.5 percent from 3-point and (11-of-40).
Hardaway acknowledged that “nothing really” changed that could explain the extraordinary differences between his play as a reserve and as a starter. Nothing but. . .
“Just the mindset and being used to that (starting) position for the past three years and knowing what I have to do in order to help, most importantly, (Kristaps Porzingis) and Luka (Doncic),” Hardaway said. “I have to take some of that pressure off of them out there on the floor, and just when my number was called, I was prepared and ready to go.”
In his first start of the season last Wednesday, Hardaway poured in 20 points in just 22 minutes against the Golden State Warriors. He was a splendid 6-of-7 from the field and an efficient 4-of-4 from behind the 3-point line.
In his second start of the season last Friday, Hardaway tallied 16 points in only 18 minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was a sizzling 6-of-8 from the field and a very effective 4-of-5 from beyond the 3-point arc.
And in his third start of the season this past Sunday, Hardaway scored a season-high 31 points in 38 minutes against the Houston Rockets. In that game he was 10-of-18 from the field and 5-of-11 from the 3-point stripe, and attempted as many free throws (seven) as he did during the previous four games combined before he found himself nestled in the starting lineup.
Hardaway credits his hard work and his shooting stroke for him becoming the benefactor of a hot hand over the past three games. He also used words such as “balance” and “free-minded” to describe reasons for his recent success.
“Honestly, just constantly working with the coaching staff and my peers and my teammates,” Hardaway said. “All three of those collectively gave me that confidence to go out there and do what I do best and play the game that I love most.
“There’s never days off, and I just want to keep going out there and competing on both ends of the floor.”
Carlisle likes the competitive spirit that Hardaway brings to the table, and he believe that is infectious.
“He’s a competitor, he’s a scorer, (and) he’s a really good defender,” Carlisle said. “He’s a connector out on the court, too.
“He connects guys and keeps guys together, which is great.”
The Mavs (11-5) hope Hardaway can help them keep everyone tied together on a string when they host a huge showdown with the Los Angeles Clippers (12-5) on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at American Airlines Center.
Meanwhile, Hardaway was touched by Carlisle’s appearance at his home this summer and by the overall message that it sent.
“It shows a lot that he cares,” Hardaway said. “He’s going to do whatever it takes for him to know his basketball players and know his team.
“When he (came to Miami, I have) the utmost respect for that. A lot of coaches won’t do that, and I was happy that he did.”
So what was the tone of the conversation?
“It was great,” Hardaway said. “We had dinner. It was awesome. Just hearing what he thought, hearing what I thought and what I see myself doing for the team.
“At the end of the day it’s coach’s decision. Whether it’s basketball players in general, like it not, it’s always coach’s decision. He always has the last say.”
And because Hardaway has been so explosive and so engaged at both ends of the court, the starting shooting guard spot now belongs to him.
“All you’ve got to do is go out there and compete and control what you can control out there,” Hardaway said. “I tried doing that, and just playing both ends of the floor.
“My shot wasn’t falling, and I was still going out there and playing defense hard, going out there sacrificing for my teammates and just trying to find easy ones out there for me to get going.”
Carlisle described Hardaway as a player who is into winning and doing whatever it takes to win. He also had high praise for the seven-year veteran.
“He’s a guy who’s at a point in his career where he’s become veteran enough to understand the things that are really important to winning, which is giving of yourself, sharing, being there for the guy next to you, working through frustration on the floor by communicating, and he’s a helluva player,” Carlisle said. “This is something, again, that has evolved over time and we’ve gotten to this place.
“How we gotten to it, at this point and time, I see him as a starter.”