Jaden Hardy's Passing | The Friday Screener
Jaden Hardy is pegged as a volume scorer, but his passing ability is what could make him a versatile offensive weapon.
Jaden Hardy may not have had the season many hoped that he would, but he showed significant improvement throughout. Hardy was regularly put in uncomfortable positions that forced him to sink or swim and eventually grew his game. Hardy is at his best when used as an off-ball scorer, but there are leaps he can take to assume a more prominent role. Hardy likely won’t become a primary initiator, but his passing improved throughout the season and could reward him with a bigger role in the future.
Hardy’s passing doesn’t reach the levels of primary initiator, but he has proven that he can run a quality two-man game and be a surgical interior passer. As a secondary option, this is more than enough to make a significant impact. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.09 doesn’t scream that he’s a great passer, but many of those turnovers were a result of his inconsistent handle, not his sloppy passing. While Hardy’s handle could get him in trouble, it also allowed him to attack the rim.
Here, Hardy shows how his handle, willingness to play through physicality, and scoring gravity can create for others. Hardy doesn’t have a great first step, so combining dribble moves like this is necessary for him to get to the rim. After a series of dribble moves, Hardy works his way to the block, which invites the help rotation. Hardy leaves his feet to simulate a layup after his spin move, which gets the help defender to commit fully. Instead of taking a reckless shot, Hardy wraps the ball around the defender and drops it off to his teammate for the layup.
This time, Hardy uses the same level of physicality on his drive but creates the initial driving lane with a hesitation move. Hardy’s willingness to play through the physicality allows him to beat his defender and force the help rotation. As Hardy and the defender leave their feet, Hardy yet again has the vision and creativity to wrap the pass around the defender to set up his teammate for the easy score.
In a pick-and-roll heavy league, Hardy will surely run plenty of these. He doesn’t have the playmaking chops that will completely unsettle a defense, but Hardy runs a quality two-man game that keeps defenders on their toes as he is a threat to score or set up the roller.
As Hardy comes off the screen, he times his drive perfectly. He knows he won’t beat the defender on the baseline; by hesitating and showing patience, though, Hardy doesn’t allow his defender to recover fully. That forces the help defender to continue shading towards the ball instead of recovering to the roller. To fully free up the roller, Hardy accelerates to the baseline before delivering the dump-off pass for the score.
This time, Hardy sets up the roller with a bit of flair. Hardy pushes with some pace and unbalances and loses his defender with a crossover into a behind-the-back dribble off the screen. This dribble combo and speed off the screen forces the help defender to step to Hardy instead of playing the drop coverage he was in previously. Once the defender steps, Hardy delivers a no-look live-dribble pocket pass to his teammate for the score.
Most of Hardy’s pick-and-roll passing is linked with the roller, but he has shown the occasional flash of hitting weak side shooters. Here, Hardy attacks hard off the screen, and the defense collapses on the roller. As Hardy turns the corner, he sees the rotation and finds the open corner shooter.
Most of Hardy’s passing is highlighted in the halfcourt, where he uses his scoring gravity to set up teammates. However, Hardy has also shown his passing vision and use of angles in transition. Here, Hardy gets the ball on the left wing and realizes that both defenders fail to communicate as they both shade towards him. Instead of trying a lobbed pass that would allow a weak side disruption, Hardy quickly changes the angle back to the middle of the floor to lead his teammate to the rim.
Even though Hardy’s passing improved throughout the season, there is still plenty of room for improvement. He struggles to read weak side defenders consistently, can be lazy with his passes, and make some flat-out head-scratching decisions.
Here, Hardy makes a pass that makes you question what in the world he’s looking at in this sequence. After denying the screen, the obvious decision is a simple kickback pass to the screener. Instead, Hardy leaves his feet and makes a skip pass that isn’t anywhere near one of his teammates and easily gets stolen.
This time, Hardy’s process is better, but the result is the same. After receiving the dribble handoff, Hardy does a good job of getting in the paint and keeping his defender on his hip. As he attacks, Hardy correctly reads that the help defenders are taking away his shot at the rim and a pass to the roller, so his only option is a kick out to a weak side shooter. As Hardy makes his pass, though, he never moves the defender as he stares down his target, resulting in an easy steal.
As Hardy continues to grow, those are reads and idiosyncrasies that can be added to his game. What is more concerning, though, is Hardy’s occasional lack of attention to detail in his passing. His decision-making can be wild, his recognition of help defenders lacks consistency, and some passes are just lazy.
Here, Hardy brings the ball up and looks to feed his teammate on the elbow. Hardy picks his dribble up well behind the arc, which allows his defender to immediately sag off and help towards Hardy’s teammate. Hardy fails to notice this and throws a soft pass that wouldn’t have cleared the defender even if he wasn’t sagging off.
Jaden Hardy’s passing is far from a finished product. He needs to improve his attention to detail and weak side recognition. If he does, then his offensive role will see a significant increase in responsibility. Hardy runs a quality two-man game and is an extremely impressive interior passer. He uses angles well, leverages his scoring gravity to create for others, and is creative. Teams will be intrigued with Hardy in the 2022 NBA Draft because of his scoring upside, but if he can continue to refine his passing craft, his impact will only rise.