Scouting Report: Jaden Hardy May Be the Most Polarizing Prospect In This Draft
There's a lot of good and a lot of not good.
Jaden Hardy had the makings of a top-five pick in June behind his tantalizing blend of athleticism and skill.
Instead, he has faltered.
Now, it’s not to say Hardy has tumbled so far out of relevancy. He has still flashed his unworldly shot-creating ability time and time again, but his overall body of work springs concerns from many.
The 6-4 shooting guard, who opted to spend one year with the G League Ignite, boasts gobs of talent as a three-level scorer with NBA-level shot-making ability. He’s averaging 17.7 points on a team full of NBA first-round picks.
The first thing that sticks out to me is his craftiness. Hardy has, in my opinion, the best handles in this draft class. He’s uber-crafty. He has the ball on a string, creating offense for himself and others — seemingly — with ease.
Hardy operates well out of pick-and-roll, in iso situations and/or running off screens.
With his 198-pound frame, he has a compact and strong body with noteworthy speed and quickness. There’s some quick-twitch athleticism there.
His scoring starts with Hardy’s shooting stroke, which can cause some serious damage.
Let me preface it by saying this: Hardy’s eerie shooting percentages (35.1 FG% and 26.9% 3PT%) are horrific, but it’s a testament to his shot selection/decision-making more than ability.
Hardy has bonafide deep range on his jumper and an effortless stroke with a high release point. He’s capable of shooting off the bounce or off the catch. He’s shooting 6.5 attempts a game. And he’s most certainly confident.
Which can be a problem. But we’ll get to that.
Hardy navigates through the defense and feels out defenders to pull up in the mid-range. He’s shown a propensity to hit those as well. He’s equipped with a solid step back as well.
Then as a driver, Hardy can be dangerous. With his athleticism and handles, he finds creases and attacks defenders. When gets downhill and attacks the rim, he looks fluid.
Hardy possesses a great first step and solid body control. He’s got the power to lower his shoulder and finish through a defender. If not with his strength, Hardy slices through defenses while also utilizing his hop step and spin move. When he draws contact and gets to the free-throw line, he’s shooting a blistering 88.2%.
Hardy plays with an incredible pace. He changes speeds so well and keeps the defense off balance.
All those traits help him decipher defenses and score eye-popping buckets. He’s sincerely a creative shot-creator when you mix in his craftiness with gaudy scoring ability
For all intents and purposes, Hardy displays a good feel for what “should be a good shot.”
Shot selection is relative. A wide-open 3-pointer for Ben Simmons would be criticized as a horrible shot while Damian Lillard shooting a step-back fadeaway 5 feet behind the arc would be a quality shot.
While those are extreme examples, the point stands.
With Hardy’s shot-making capabilities, those jumpers should be chalked up as high quality. In many respects, he looks like to be a polished NBA guard with his ability to create enough space and pull up off the bounce.
The issue is: he isn’t hitting them. For whatever reason.
But it’s twofold. There are looks that could be classified as “good looks,” but they are often ill-timed. After hitting a few 3-pointers or just a few baskets in general, he’ll rip off a “tough look,” which he’s capable of hitting but a better shot can be manufactured. Then there are times, he pulls up early in the shot clock when it’s not needed. Or in transition. Again, not bad looks but can be better.
It really comes down to this: if those jumpers he’s used to taking are now unfruitful attempts, he needs to adjust. Which he hasn’t.
Then there’s his decision-making while driving, which can be truly infuriating at times.
As I said before, when he’s right, he’s a lethal shot-maker at the rim. The issue emerges when he tries to squeeze through traffic, tries to do too much, etc. He can get a bit reckless at times, which tanks his efficiency and effectiveness.
The thing is, so often, he “forces” and scores a sensational basket. The times he doesn’t, his game appears porous. This is where a majority of his 3.5 turnovers arise from — overdribbling, being pickpocketed, etc.
Hardy struggles to finish consistently at the rim. In fact, he often gets blocked when he gets to the rim. Like, a lot.
It sounds silly, but to me, sometimes it feels like he’s unaware there’s even a shot-blocker present.
When he gets going downhill cleanly, he looks fluid and typically finishes at the rim. Other times, he throws up wild layups when he doesn’t get to his spots. When he gets near the rim, but not to his spots, and doesn’t have a passing lane, he commits and musters up a futile layup attempt. Which either clanks off the rim or is swatted away.
That being said, all this doesn’t speak to selfishness. The shot selection/decision-making needs to be improved no question, which almost makes a bit head-scratching considering his playmaking.
Hardy flashes superb vision/feel as a passer. He leverages defenders with his scoring/ball-handling and opens passing lanes for drop-offs, kick-outs, pocket passes, etc.
He averages 3.2 assists, which is a solid mark all things considered.
Hardy also pitches in 4.6 rebounds a game, which is a bit of a surprise to me. He puts in little to no effort crashing the glass or boxing his man out. The majority of his boards are easy ones when no one is around, or he uses his vertical/length casually when the ball is in his vicinity.
Too often, he’s just strolling in, not making a legitimate effort to grab boards. Which is parallel to his effort on defense.
Hardy’s off-ball defense is appalling. He shows little negligible defensive intensity, losing his assignment when his man doesn’t have the ball. There are countless times his man cuts right by him or the rotations get all messed up because Hardy isn’t engaged.
Then as a weak side help defender, Hardy isn’t locked in. He doesn’t commit to sliding down when he needs to and doesn’t rotate back to his man when he gets the ball. His late rotation forces him to take a bad angle and get beat off the dribble.
He struggles in pick-and-roll defense, and his one-on-one defense isn’t much better.
It does, however, appear to be a product of effort, not ability. Which is the silver lining. When he’s locked in, Hardy slides with his man and can make a contest. But far too often, he loses his feet and/or stops moving.
He loves to bite and try to grab steals instead of keeping his defender in front of him, which causes more defensive lapses. To his credit, he has racked up 1.3 steals per game.
But I think any coach would rather see proper defensive effort.
The good news is he has the physical traits to develop. With his plus athleticism and 6-9 wingspan, Hardy can develop into a functional defender at the next level.
That is if he chooses to put in the work. Which is the same conundrum we’re looking at with his notorious offensive game.
Hardy flaunts mesmerizing talent. But his dicey season exhibits a polarizing prospect rather than the next-level scorer who will undoubtedly flourish.