One thing stood out in the Dallas Mavericks’ 111-105 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves Sunday night.

The influential play of Tim Hardaway Jr.

With Kristaps Porzingis limited to 23 minutes due to a foot injury, Hardaway tallied 28 points on 10-19 shooting from the field and 4-13 from three. From the opening tip to the fourth quarter, he looked more like the 2020-21 version of himself, as opposed to what has become the norm this season. And in his efforts, some heroic, he provided a glimpse into the path forward for Dallas’ offense the rest of the way.

Shooting woes have been the talk of the town for the Mavericks (14-15). Yet, in that equation, what often gets omitted is Hardaway’s struggles. Coming into Sunday night’s game, he was averaging 14.4 points per game on 38 percent from the field and 33 percent from three.

He hasn’t played up to his four-year $75 million contract extension the Mavericks gave him during the offseason. And as a result, Dallas’ offensive shooting numbers have suffered.

The Mavericks are 25th in 3-point field goal percentage (32 percent) and 23rd in field goal percentage (44 percent). It’s been an ugly offensive season under head coach Jason Kidd.

Yet, all the Mavericks’ shooting struggles don’t fall squarely on Hardaway’s shoulders. Reggie Bullock, who missed Sunday’s game in health and safety protocols, is shooting 27 percent from three. And Luka Doncic’s extended absence because of a left ankle injury hasn’t helped anything. However, Hardaway’s inefficient shooting percentages, dip in points per game, and less frequent free throw attempts haven’t helped Dallas’ offensive cause.

That’s why his production against Minnesota was a welcomed sign.

If history is any indication of where things should go, Dallas’ offense needs Hardaway at his best to be its best amongst the crowded Western Conference.

Contextualizing Hardaway’s play.

During wins last season, Hardaway averaged 17.4 points on 40 percent from three.

When he played well, wins typically followed.

This season, in wins, Hardaway is averaging 14.1 points on 36 percent from three. His dip in production may somewhat explain the lack of pop in the Mavericks’ offense through 29 games. No Doncic also provides context to that explanation as well.

Think back to Dallas’ great second half of the 2020-21 season. Part of that turnaround was linked to the emergence of Hardaway. If you remember, he played his way into his current contract extension. The four-year contract was far from a guaranteed deal until Hardaway averaged 20.9 points per game in the final month of Dallas’ season.

That version of Hardaway just hasn’t existed to this point. And Dallas desperately needs him to show up.

Against Minnesota, he finally did.

From Minnesota onward

Though Dallas didn’t win on Sunday night, Hardaway’s performance is reason to hope for brighter days down the road.

He’s struggled for long stretches thus far. In Minnesota, he didn’t look as though he was laboring to score the ball. That felt like a first. And in a season where injuries, sickness, and mediocrity have derailed what should have been a faster start for Dallas, you have to count the small victories.

Hardaway finding his jump shot is one of them. You just hope that his shot-making can carry over to when Doncic, Porzingis, and the bevy of other players out return to the hardwood.

Related Dallas Mavericks reading:

“Mavs Journal: Why Dallas may be better than its current record suggests.” 

“Jalen Brunson: Providing consistency amidst Luka Doncic’s absence.” 

Feature image via Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports.