LAS VEGAS – Jaden Hardy has been through the school of hard hitting in the G-League and has had plenty of other teaching moments on the basketball court.
As the Mavericks’ summer league superstar this week, he’s learning another invaluable lesson.
How to be the big fish.
Granted, the NBA 2K24 Summer League isn’t the biggest pond Hardy hopes to swim in during his career.
But games like Wednesday’s, where Hardy and the Mavericks held on for a 98-96 overtime victory over Golden State, prove that Hardy is learning what it’s like to be The Man.
“It’s huge for Hardy,” Mavs summer league coach Jared Dudley said. “He doesn’t shoot the ball well. (But) we’re winning games. There’s a lot going on. We’re going to have him guard some of the best players. Offensively, they have the best player to guard him. They sink. They know his game.
“Sometimes he pushes. But we’ll take it. He was 6-of-20 (6-of-19 shooting, officially) in a win. We’ve seen all different types of players do this at some point.”
Hardy had the ball in his hands twice with the game on the line. The first was at the end of regulation when he shot a step-back jumper that was blocked.
Then, with the game tied at 96 in overtime, he had another chance and another step-back three-pointer was off the mark.
Those two games could have been costly and Dudley said the blame was spread evenly.
“One thing I told the team and Hardy, the fourth quarter before the end of it, was my mistake on the play call,” Dudley said. – The ball screen, I have to give him enough space and timing.
“Overtime was his fault. I got the matchup I wanted. He had gaps to drive, he took a step back. But that’s one thing about this team . . . we stuck with it, crashed, tip-dunk for the win . I was excited.”
The tip-in dunk was courtesy of Braxton Key, who had blocked a Golden State shot on the other end, setting up the layup that ended with him getting a miss to end the game.
In the summer league, overtime is over when a team reaches seven points.
Hardy went on to put up some of the best numbers in the summer league. He finished with 21 points despite the off shooting night.
And learning to be a team leader and handle all the pressure that comes with it is something that should serve Hardy well in his second season with the Mavericks. Sometimes we forget that he didn’t turn 21 until July 5th.
And he’s had a big impact on teammates who have yet to get their feet wet in the NBA.
“We all know how (good) Jaden Hardy is,” said Mike Miles Jr., who stepped in as the starter in the backcourt alongside Hardy and had 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting. “I don’t even think he should be playing (in summer league). He’s that good.
“He’s a scorer. He’s a good teammate and always trusts everybody. And he doesn’t get mad when you miss a shot. We want him to shoot. He’s the best player on the team. We go as he goes.”
O-Max Prosper said, “He’s a great player, a great scorer. To me, playing with a guy like that who has a year under his belt, he knows how to rise above guys and make the right play and get to the free throw line, it’s great to play with a guy like that.”
The key to the game: Braxton Key is one of the oldest players in the summer league at 26 years old and has one of the most famous uncles of anyone playing in Vegas – Ralph Sampson.
But Key made his own moment Wednesday.
He blocked a potential game-winning shot from Golden State rookie Brandin Podziemski, then followed the ensuing fast break and cleaned up a miss by O-Max Prosper with a game-ending dunk.
Overtime in the summer league is decided by the first team to seven points. The dunk gave the Mavericks eight points and a 98-96 victory.
“There was a little breakdown defensively and one of their guys was open underneath,” Key said. “I made a block, we took over, O-Max got the rebound and pushed it. I followed right up and tried to make a play.
“In the summer league, it’s about learning, just trying to play as well as we can in pressured situations. It brings out the best in everyone. I’m glad we came out with the win.”
Dudley said, “That was one hell of a win.”
The Mavericks got double-doubles from their two first-round picks, 17 points and 10 rebounds from Prosper and 11 points and 10 rebounds from Dereck Lively II.
The Mavericks are now 2-1 in Vegas and will play Indiana at 6pm Dallas time on Friday. They will have another game after that against an opponent to be decided.
Map: McKinley Wright IV (ankle) did not play Wednesday. . . The Mavericks practice on Thursday ahead of Friday’s game. . . The overtime format took some getting used to. In the summer league, the first team to score seven points wins. It brings the possibility into play quickly if a team needs to score three points and is trying to make a three-pointer. “That’s what we did in the G-League last year,” Key said. “Seven points you have to lock in. Of course there is strategy. Some teams fail. Some teams let you play.” Both teams trailed by three points on consecutive possessions before both reached 96 and needed just one point to win. The Mavericks got two on Key’s dunk.