DALLAS – Being ushered back into the fold after missing all the success of last season isn’t easy.

Yet, somehow, Tim Hardaway Jr. is managing. It hasn’t been completely seamless all the time throughout training camp. But in the Dallas Mavericks’ final preseason game against the Utah Jazz, the Hardaway and Luka Doncic connection looked reminiscent of the 2020-21 season.

In what Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd viewed as a dress rehearsal, Hardaway scored 20 points, made four 3-point shots, and played a gritty 25 minutes off the bench in a 115-101 victory. After the game, his only complaint was that he wanted another preseason game, but that was out of selfish ambition, he said. Nonetheless, Hardaway looks back. He feels back, too. And it can’t be a bad thing, when his biggest adjustment is finding comfort playing next to a generational talent in Doncic, again.

“For the most part, it’s knowing when you’ll receive the ball,” Hardaway said. “That is just staying still, watching him do his things. But [forming chemistry] that won’t take too long. You got to be shot ready, quick trigger, ready to fire the shot off. It doesn’t bother me because I get my shot off faster. But we’ve been doing fine.”

Having Hardaway back matters more this season than ever for Doncic. The Mavericks still lack a genuine shot creator outside of him and Spencer Dinwiddie. Meaning, the pathway to success this season resides in Dallas’ ability to surround Doncic with shooters.

Good thing Hardaway hasn’t seen a shot he doesn’t like.

In what was a lackluster 2021-22 season for Hardaway, he was Dallas’ leading contested shot-taker. The average defender was 5.3 feet away. To put it in perspective, Dorian Finney-Smith’s average defender was 8.1 feet away and Doncic’s was 5.4.

When Hardaway is on, he’s often making those contested looks. When he’s struggling, those contested 3-point shots become nearly as useful as turnovers.

With the addition of Christian Wood, the emergence of Finney-Smith as Dallas’ most consistent catch-and-shoot jump shooter, along with the multiple advantages of having various scoring options in the post available to Kidd, Hardaway shouldn’t necessarily have to keep taking contested threes at the same rate he did last season.

He’ll be doing a lot more of what he described after Friday’s game against Utah – watching Doncic go to work and spacing the floor.

Hardaway will merely have to knock down the shots.

“Timmy does a great job there,” Kidd said after the game. “We get some wide-open looks. Again, if Luka and Spencer create open shots, we got to be able to knock them down.”

And for Hardaway, that starts with rebuilding chemistry while understanding Dallas is only asking him to do what he does best – shoot the ball.

“We are happy that preseason is over,” Hardaway said with a smile. “We are ready to compete in Phoenix on Wednesday.”

Related Dallas Mavericks reading

“Mavericks: Luka Doncic explains how Dallas could take a step forward.”
“The Mavericks’ additional playmaker may have been on the roster all along.” 
“Mavericks: Christian Wood earning playing time in an unexpected way.” 

Feature image via Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports.