Tim Hardaway Jr: Trade or Keep?

After making two big draft day trades to acquire center Dereck Lively II, forward Olivier-Maxence Prosper and center Richaun Holmes, Dallas Mavericks’ general manager Nico Harrison made his message clear:

“This is just the beginning.”

As the Mavericks’ front office begins reconstructing the roster, one Maverick has constantly been surrounded by trade discourse since the trade deadline: Tim Hardaway Jr.

With only a handful of movable assets left, the front office faces a big question: Do they trade Hardaway Jr., and if so, what should they look to get in return?

The Case for Keeping Hardaway Jr.

Hardaway Jr. has one elite skill: volume three-point shooting. 

Over the past four years, Hardaway Jr. has been the 11th-most accurate volume shooter (seven or more three-point attempts per game) among qualified players. In the same period, he is only one of seven NBA players to attempt over 1,500 threes and shoot at least 38% from deep while averaging 65 games played per season.

Additionally, almost 65% of his shot attempts came from three-point range last season, placing him in the 90th percentile among qualified players, which provides guaranteed floor spacing for any ball-handler he plays alongside.

He is also the ultimate spark plug who can come off the bench and immediately contribute, a likely role for him given an expected Luka Dončić-Kyrie Irving starting backcourt. This role is vital for a Mavericks’ second unit that, while still materializing, currently lacks a go-to shooter. Furthermore, his play has contributed to winning, with Dallas going just 1-10 in his absence last season.

Hardaway Jr.’s contract is also stomachable: he earns $17.9 million this year and just $16.1 million next year. His declining contract also makes him an in-house asset, and he might have a greater trade value in 2024-2025 when his contract is expiring than he does currently.

The Case for Trading Hardaway Jr.

Hardaway Jr. has only one elite skill.

Hardaway Jr., like many players on the team last year, was asked to do too much. He ranked as a 38th percentile defender according to CraftedNBA, yet routinely defended the best opposing wing. He is not a playmaker, averaging just 1.8 assists per game and grading out as just a 33rd percentile passer, yet was routinely asked to be the secondary playmaker next to either Dončić or Irving.   

And, beyond his three-point shooting, Hardaway Jr. is a surprisingly inefficient shooter. Last season, he had a true shooting percentage of just 55.4%, placing him in the 34th percentile of qualified players. He shot just 43.1% on two-point attempts, 3.5% below league average, and scored almost exclusively on spot-up shots, exposing him as a poor shot-creator.

While having an elite volume shooter like Hardaway Jr. is nice, it is more of a luxury than a necessity. Of those aforementioned seven elite volume shooters, only two made the playoffs last season, and neither made it out of the first round. Hardaway Jr.’s skills just don’t address any of the roster’s critical needs: perimeter defense, secondary playmaking and shot-creating.

The Mavericks’ roster had a fatal flaw last season: too many one-dimensional players. 

Hardaway Jr. is one of those players.

Trade Criteria

As a sharpshooter, Hardaway Jr. will thrive, whether in Dallas or elsewhere. If he remains in Dallas, the front office must continue to bring in pieces to enable him to fill that role. If Dallas seeks to move him, they must be doing so to address a need while preferably maintaining cap flexibility. Hardaway Jr. is not a negative asset; Dallas should not seek to just dump his salary. 

Ideally, Dallas could trade him to a team like the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Orlando Magic, which have a glut of playmakers and a dearth of shooters, to balance the roster. Alternatively, Dallas could seek to package him in a splashier deal, like the reported potential exchange for Phoenix Sun’s center DeAndre Ayton. 

With the real possibility that Hardaway Jr. gets traded, Mavericks fans should keep one thing in mind: sometimes you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

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