The Dallas Mavericks opened the preseason with a 111-101 victory over the Utah Jazz at the American Airlines Center on Wednesday night, signifying basketball season is indeed upon us once more, but how good is this team exactly? While there are several new faces, many questions remain.
Every season has its X-factors, the players who either elevated their game or fail to measure up to expectations. Oftentimes, these are the players who define the season. Fans already know Luka is sensational and that he'll continue to ball out, but what about the role players? Who among them will step up to the task and help deliver the Mavericks to the promised land, the second round of the NBA Playoffs?
Admittedly, the bar is necessarily a bit low for the moment. Anything short of a second-round appearance this season will be a letdown. With that, these are the three biggest X-factors for the 2021-2022 Dallas Mavericks.
Dallas Mavericks X-factor for 2021-2022 season: 3. Tim Hardaway Jr.
Tim Hardaway Jr. signed a four-year, $75 million contract with the Mavs this offseason, turning down an additional $17 million New Orleans was prepared to offer him. The message was clear, Hardaway has found a fit and a home in Dallas, as evidenced by the fact that he will be playing his longest continuous stretch with a single franchise in his nine-year NBA career.
Hardaway Jr. undoubtedly found a good fit as the Mavs marksman, elevating his career 3-point percentage from 34.4 percent before joining Dallas to 37 percent over the past two-plus seasons. Not counting his 19 games in 2019 following the blockbuster Kristaps Porzingis trade that brought him to the Mavericks, THJ has shot 39.5 percent from downtown playing alongside Luka Doncic.
He's also been playing at the end of a contract in which he could have become a free agent the past two seasons. Following the 2019-2020 season, THJ had a player option worth $18.9M, which he chose to pick up. While that's a nice chunk of change, the then 28-year-old could have declined the option to enter free agency in search of another handsome payday given his strong performance that season. He also could have earned himself greater security than banking on another equal or even greater season in 2020-2021.
It was a high-risk gamble, but Hardaway Jr. not only bet on himself, but he won in the process. After an even better second full season with the Mavericks, he secured a new four-year deal in line with what he was seeking. The question now, after two seasons of essentially playing for a new contract, is whether or not he can continue to perform at that level.
It's human nature to strive for something so long you almost don't know what to do once you finally have it. In the NFL, teams are cautioned about handing out big contracts to guys coming off career years at the end of their deal. I'm not saying that's what will happen with Hardaway Jr. Quite the opposite, I sincerely hope he can continue being a lethal, albeit streaky 3-point shooter who can help spread the floor for Dallas moving forward.
If he matches or even exceeds his previously set bar, Dallas's chances at taking the next key step increase greatly. If he can't, the Mavs' third-richest contract might place the team in a bind moving forward.