An Early Check-In on Jaden Hardy
The G-League Ignite Guard has played three games with wildly different outcomes
Earlier this week, someone on Twitter asked us how we felt about Jaden Hardy’s debut and whether it would change our perception of him as our preseason #1 prospect. Our initial response: changing a perception a game or two into the season would be an overreaction in any direction. For Hardy, that is more true than most college prospects, considering Hardy is going up against pro-level competition every night. The learning curve would be steeper, so our cushion for growing pains needs to be larger.
On the other end of the spectrum, Hardy has exhibited through three games what makes him a bit of a polarizing prospect atop draft boards. In his G-League Ignite debut against the South Bay Lakers, he finished with 6 points and 5 assists while shooting 2-15 from the field and 0-5 from deep. He wasn’t taking great shots, only took one free throw and made three turnovers.
In his next contest, Hardy scored 24 points, going 4-9 from deep and showcasing the elite shot-making prowess that has him considered the top guy on some draft boards, including our own. Hardy was only 7-21 from the field, still woefully inefficient on the interior and validating some of the preseason concerns many had about his speed, separation and shot selection. On the other hand, a two or three-game sample is nowhere near enough to write off such a prospect and label him as inefficient or a poor finisher.
During his debut, Hardy did have a few positive moments, including some crisp passes when attacking downhill.
While the reads are positive and an encouraging sign for a player with a clear score-first mentality, Hardy’s mechanics aren’t great. He’s leaving his feet and hanging in the air a bit long, while also making passes at the last possible moment. Those are less likely to be successful in the NBA, particularly if he isn’t seen as a threat to score at the rim.
The rough start shooting was a one-off in many ways; the jumper wasn’t falling, nor was his finishing at the basket. After three games, where he’s gone 6-15 (40%) from 3-point land since the rough debut, the shooting appears very real.
In game #2 of the year against the Agua Caliente Clippers, Hardy exploded from a shooting perspective, especially in the first half. He hit deep looks from a catch-and-shoot standpoint. He had some smooth dribble pull-ups and long-range bombs. All that promising offense held up:
The aesthetics of his jumper are near flawless. Hardy dips the ball a tad low at times, but he’s smooth and compact the rest of the way. Extending to range requires little effort or mechanical tweaks. He’s a pure jump shooter. Two games in, we saw how tantalizing that can be, and how empty his scoring arsenal can look without it.
Game three was a little bit more of the compromised, median-outcome version of Hardy. In a rematch with the Clippers, Hardy went for 16 points, 9 rebounds and 1 assist while shooting 6-17 from the field and 2-6 from deep. There were times his jumper was falling, and the dribble pull-ups out of the pick-and-roll are consistent staples of production:
The mid-range scoring flashed in the second game brings Hardy the most coveted of all scoring attributes: three-level scoring potential. Drilling from deep, at the basket and in the mid-range gives him a complete game, and with his range you could argue he’s got four-level upside.
Here’s the thing: Hardy has not proven to be very good at the basket. Three-level scoring potential is always reliant on being good enough at the first level: the rim.
The concerns on Hardy’s finishing coming into the season are validated thus far. Through the first three, he’s shooting 11-33 inside the arc and 1-8 at the rim. His 2-11 shooting out of the pick-and-roll isn’t a great start.
Again, it’s easy to dismiss these as a rough beginning to the year, and we’re certainly not drawing conclusions that Hardy is going to be a poor finisher all season. But the clips are more damning than the numbers in some regard. He just lacks separation or natural straight-line athleticism. Some of the mechanics of his driving ability prevent him from creating space towards the basket. The fear: eventually, defenders will crowd him more, and now his step-back will be less effective.
You can see early on how he’s hunting for contact to draw fouls, doesn’t explode vertically to his finishes and plays off one foot, not under enough balance to compensate.
Hardy’s a good but not great athlete. He needs to figure out how to play under control and balanced on the interior to offset the lack of athleticism. Thankfully, the tools are already there to make his game fully elite once those tricks are found. The pull-up jumper from the elbows should be respected so much that he gets into the lane off a hesitation dribble. He just needs to learn how to finish when he gets there.
At this point, Hardy is still entrenched in the top tier for us. There’s time for him to adjust his game, and there’s no greater motivator or teacher than both the film he’s getting with his staff and the desperation of seeing his name potentially plummet down draft boards. We also have to abide by our small sample size principle, and not overreact to a few games when the learning curve is higher for Hardy than other college prospects.
Give him time to play through some of these early mistakes. But we’ll certainly be tracking his finishing the rest of the season to see how, or if, he improves. Interior finishing is something great players cannot survive without. His offensive arsenal as an alpha literally hangs in the balance.