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How Tim Hardaway Jr.’s Return Impacts Mavs Next Season

Despite losing Jalen Brunson, there are still many reasons for the Dallas Mavericks to have optimism about the upcoming 2022-23 season: Luka Doncic has another year with valuable playoff experience under his belt, Spencer Dinwiddie will be entering his second season since recovering from his ACL, which is usually when players fully return to their previous physical forms, and Dallas’ big man situation got a much-needed boost with the additions of Christian Wood and JaVale McGee.

Is the return of Tim Hardaway Jr. a reason for optimism as well? The easy answer to that question is “yes,” given the circumstances of losing Brunson’s production. But how much of a “yes” that ends up being could depend on which version of Hardaway the Mavs get.

Last season, Hardaway Jr. played in 42 games before undergoing surgery to repair a foot fracture. He averaged 14.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.2 assists, but was unable to convert at his regular clip from deep. He shot just 33.6 percent from beyond the arc after shooting a combined 39.4 percent the two seasons prior.

Perhaps it was just a down year for Hardaway Jr., but before his injury, he didn’t seem to fit into Jason Kidd’s new system the same way he fit in Rick Carlisle’s. The addition of Dinwiddie was expected to help Hardaway Jr. find more high-quality looks off the bench, but with Brunson gone and Dinwiddie now moving into the starting lineup with Doncic, it’s yet to be seen who will be that extra secondary distributor for the Mavs as a reserve.

The Mavs often deployed Brunson and Dinwiddie together in plug-and-play lineups throughout games last season. That will likely be what gets done with Hardaway Jr. and Dinwiddie this season, although Hardaway Jr.’s exact role might not be nailed down just yet.

“I’m definitely excited to talk to the coaching staff, J-Kidd, Nico (Harrison, general manager) and really get an idea moving forward of what they see (for) myself,” Hardaway said after the season ended. “I’m pretty sure they know and everybody else knows what I can do. Just moving forward, just trying to see what role I do actually play. And we’ll go from there.”

The impact Hardaway Jr. provided against the LA Clippers in the 2021 playoffs shouldn’t be understated. When the opposition deployed small lineups, Doncic received helpful contributions from Hardaway Jr. with an average of 17.0 points per game while shooting 40.4 percent from deep.

The out-of-gas Mavs definitely could’ve used some of that production in the Western Conference Finals when their season ended against the Golden State Warriors. We’ll find out soon enough just how much Hardaway Jr.’s return can make up for Brunson’s departure.

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