Exiting the Comfort Zone: Jaden Hardy
It's not easy to exit your comfort zone, and the progression that Jaden Hardy showed with the G-League Ignite this year cannot be overlooked.
Hype is a dangerous thing.
It’s an idea of excitement that continues to be shown to us with the hope of creating everlasting joy. The problem is that it can spiral out of control as well. If you push the idea beyond its deserving limits, then expectations can present themselves that are simply impossible to live up to in reality.
The same concept can happen to a basketball prospect. Before they’ve taken the challenge of leaping to another difficult realm of competition, we are told that this individual is expected to dominate without question. Because of this building “hype” we find ourselves ignoring the important bread crumbs of details left behind.
What situation is this prospect entering? Are they realistically capable of putting up the type of production we are projecting? There are a lot of moving parts and factors that go into a player taking the leap from the high school level to their next level of basketball. We all expect these players to immediately contribute at a high level. The harsh reality is that some individuals simply need more time to find their confidence than others.
Heading into the 2021-22 season, Jaden Hardy found himself as the “wildcard” for the 2022 NBA Draft class. Hardy was the #2 ranked prospect in the ESPN100, behind Gonzaga big man Chet Holmgren. As a junior, while attending Coronado High School, Hardy went on to post averages of 30.4 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 8.4 assists per game. He was invited to the rosters for the Jordan Brand Classic, McDonald’s All-American Game, and Nike Hoop Summit.
After weighing offers from a wide range of Collegiate teams, Hardy announced he would join the NBA G-League and analysts started to project that the talented guard could be a dark horse candidate for a potential Top 3 selection in the 2022 NBA Draft.
Yes, that’s how quickly the hype can get out of control.
Fast forward to the middle of the NBA G-League season, and the stock for Jaden Hardy was trending in the wrong way. Analysts continued to point out the fact that the young guard continued to struggle with turnovers and inefficient shooting performances. But there’s a bigger story to focus on when looking at the bigger picture here. We’ve seen evidence of it time and time again, even as recently as the 2021 NBA Draft with players such as Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga.
Are we not understanding the purpose of players heading to the G-League Ignite system?
Let me go ahead and throw something blunt at you. The G-League Ignite doesn’t give a shit about winning a G-League Championship. As “rude” as that might seem, that is not their number one goal throughout the year. Their goal is to do everything in their power to take young talented prospects and improve their talent to the best of their ability in preparation for the upcoming NBA Draft. If a player has a glaring weakness, the Ignite program and coaches are going to do everything to try to improve that weakness, making that player more “desirable” when it comes to their draft stock.
When you look back at Jaden Hardy as a high school basketball player, it’s not difficult to figure out his strengths. Hardy has lethal, and I do mean LETHAL, range from beyond the perimeter. Sometimes you wonder if he was ever going to hit the rim with some of his shooting displays. Hardy showed the most confidence when it came to playing off the ball. He’d run off a screen or two, catch a pass seven feet beyond the three-point line, and let it fly without any hesitation that it was going to be nothing but net.
Fast forward to the G-League Ignite, and it was a rude awakening at the beginning of the year for the sharpshooting guard. Many continued to scratch their heads and wonder what was happening to this once-projected Top 5 selection. If Hardy was supposed to be such a sensational talent when it came to his scoring ability, why was he struggling so much?
The best part about watching young prospects in the G-League is that you get a real opportunity to see the growth throughout the season. The Ignite knew exactly what Hardy was going to be comfortable with doing. They understood that the 19-year-old guard was a weapon from well beyond NBA range. But they also knew they needed to develop the rest of his game, even if it meant some growing pains were expected.
The G-League Ignite will put players in uncomfortable positions so they can get comfortable. In life, if you want to see growth, you got to get out of your comfort zone. The same can be said for basketball, especially when it comes to developing a young player.
So that’s exactly what the Ignite did. They put Hardy in an unfamiliar situation. They made him a primary ball-handler, asking him to run the offense and learn how to read opposing defenses. Sure, the Ignite could have simply allowed Hardy to play off the ball the entire year and continued to hammer away at his “strength” on a nightly basis. But then what happens if he got to the NBA and can’t read a defense? What happens if he’s asked to run a pick-and-roll at the next level and he doesn’t understand how to go through his progressions?
The NBA G-League is a much tougher league than fans might give it credit for being. We are expecting young individuals to make the jump to a professional league and hit the ground running. The truth is that it takes time. The entire kitchen sink is being thrown at these young players—everything from extended playbooks to various defensive rotations and assignments.
We should be applauding the progression that Jaden Hardy showed throughout the year. Instead, NBA teams have found themselves scratching their heads. As said before, Hardy was asked to take on more of a role as a primary ball-handler. With the massive jump in competition, the talented guard struggled throughout the gate, but his progression throughout the season cannot be overlooked.
First 8 Games:
17.1 PTS | 5.0 REB | 3.8 AST
1.4 STL | 3.3 TOV | 28.8 USG% | 45.5 TS%
32.9 FG% | 25.9 3P% | 90.5 FT%
Second 8 Games:
17.6 PTS | 2.9 REB | 2.9 AST
0.8 STL | 3.9 TOV | 31.2 USG% | 54.0 TS%
37.1 FG% | 27.8 3P% | 70.0 FT%
Last 8 Games:
22.5 PTS | 4.9 REB | 4.1 AST
1.8 STL | 2.9 TOV | 30.8 USG% | 54.9 TS%
42.2 FG% | 37.7 3P% | 85.7 FT%
The jump in production throughout the year is honestly remarkable and deserves to get more attention. As I stated before, “hype can be a dangerous thing.” Because of the hype that Jaden Hardy had coming into the season, the expectations for a potential Top 5 selection with such a massive jump in competition was a bit unfair. This is the same league that saw Jalen Green post averages of 17.9 points per game with shooting splits of 46/36/82. After a rough start to the year for the Houston Rockets rookie, Green has suddenly become a potential breakout “monster” for his sophomore campaign.
This is the same league that saw Jonathan Kuminga post averages of 15.8 points per game with shooting splits of 40/20/60. That’s before the Golden State Warriors forward showed flashes of becoming a dangerous weapon for the organization in the future. There’s no denying that Hardy is going to have his fair share of growing pains early on in his career. Every young player is expected to have them. It simply takes time for things to click and for a player to truly find their groove at the next level.
This sequence of clips showcases Jaden Hardy throughout the beginning of the G-League season. You can see a number of times on film in which Hardy is simply trying to adjust to the speed of the game. Legendary basketball coach John Wooden had a famous saying: “be quick, but don’t be in a hurry.” When you watch young guards trying to adjust to the speed of the game suddenly being turned up to NASCAR-like speed, you can find that a lot of turnovers can be forced from being erratic. That was the case early on with Hardy. You could see him trying to force the issue. It wasn’t that the decision or read wasn’t correct—it was just simply that the timing was a bit off.
At the end of the season, you could really start to see Hardy’s game and overall confidence start to flourish. Patience, and allowing a play to develop, is crucial to the development of a young guard. The G-League Ignite knew that Hardy was always going to be a dangerous weapon from the perimeter. So they put a plan in place to develop other aspects of his game, hoping to unlock his potential to be a more well-rounded offensive asset.
It doesn’t mean that Hardy will be relied upon to be a primary playmaker at the next level. But now Hardy has the foundation to continue to build off of that part of his game, making him a more fascinating prospect moving forward. Early in the year, Hardy would attack the lane with purpose but confusion. He’d find himself struggling to make last-second reads. As the year went on, you could start to see the vision come alive. You could also see that Hardy let the game come to him instead of forcing the issue.
Whichever team decides to invest in Jaden Hardy will get a hungry and motivated player at the next level. Hardy was thrown into the fire early on with the G-League Ignite. But in the end, he saw progression throughout the season in a number of key areas. The NBA is always going to be hunting for the offensive weapon that can become a serious sparkplug in the rotation. With the talent and upside that Jaden Hardy has, they could find themselves unlocking a potential monster at the next level.
Talent has never been the question when it comes to the 19-year-old guard. Hardy will be one of the most underrated storylines to monitor on the night of the Draft. For a player who was once viewed as a potential Top 5 selection, there’s no denying that Hardy will be ready to make some noise at the next level. Exiting your comfort zone can always be a scary idea in theory, but it might have positioned an elite talent to shock the NBA world.