Tuesday, May 23, 2017 | 2 a.m.
UNLV needs a spark in the backcourt.
That was obvious last season, when the Rebels’ depth chart at the 2 was made up of “shooting guards” in name only. Jalen Poyser, Uche Ofoegbu and Kris Clyburn all logged minutes at that position, but none provided the kind of scoring or playmaking required to field a cohesive offense.
Poyser, Ofoegbu and Clyburn combined to shoot 36.4 percent from the field and 29.8 percent from 3-point range, and none from that group managed a true shooting percentage better than 0.490 percent. That made a scoring guard a high priority on the recruiting trail, so when Michigan native Amauri Hardy de-committed from Oklahoma State in April, one of his first suitors was Marvin Menzies.
Hardy was a lethal scorer in high school, pouring in 29 points per game last season while making more than 40 percent of his 3-pointers. While he played point guard as a senior, that position may not be in his future at the Division I level. After watching some of Hardy’s games from last season, however, it’s safe to say he has the size (6-foot-3), skills and aggressive mentality to contribute immediately as a shoot-first guard.
It’s hard to overstate Hardy’s scoring prowess last season. He didn’t just score 29 points and hand out six assists every night — he created every shot and passing lane almost single-handedly. After 12 seniors graduated from a team that lost in the state final a year earlier, Hardy was North Farmington’s only upperclassman this season, and he was tasked with carrying an immense load.
In the games we watched, Hardy must have had a usage rate higher than 80 percent. The ball was in his hands at all times, and his marching orders were to either score or set up a teammate for a basket. Hardy complied, with gusto.
Offensively, Hardy’s first preference was driving. The southpaw likes to go left, and North Farmington opponents knew that, but Hardy has an explosively quick first step (and an array of hesitation moves) that often allowed him to blow by defenders to his strong side anyway.
If his first step was contained, Hardy had a number of creative countermoves to fall back on, as he used crossovers, inside-out dribbles, spins, reverse pivots and jump stops to get into the lane. His dribbling ability is elite.
Once inside the defense, he’s athletic enough to burst to the rim and finish with either hand. When the defense was able to cut off his path to the basket, he was agile enough to avoid charges and sturdy enough to absorb contact, and he used floaters, bank shots and strong English to convert on in-between shots:
Once Hardy gets going toward the rim, he usually takes the shot. He becomes a passer only when all other avenues are sealed off. And when he does kick out, it’s usually a simple swing pass along the strong side for a corner 3. In the games we watched, North Farmington didn’t utilize any motion away from the ball, and Hardy didn’t attempt many wraparounds or drop-off passes to big men:
It’s hard to say how much of the limited passing game was attributable to Hardy’s vision and how much of it was the game plan, but North Farmington was almost always better off with Hardy forcing a shot rather than another player taking an open one. Still, if Hardy has developed tunnel vision, that’s a bad habit that he’ll have to work on at UNLV.
Hardy taking the ball to the basket and scoring was a huge percentage of Farmington’s offense. When he wasn’t doing that, he was shooting 3-pointers. A ton of 3-pointers. Another example of Hardy’s huge role in the North Farmington offense: Over the course of the four games we watched, he shot more than 30 3-pointers off the dribble; in those same games, he attempted just three catch-and-shoot jumpers.
Sometimes the results were ugly, with a bushel of 3-pointers bouncing off the rim, but Hardy appears to have a good stroke and he got red hot several times in the games we watched. When he shoots on-balance, his range extends out past the college arc, as evidenced by his high percentage:
It’s hard to judge Hardy as a shooter when he got so few open looks. He also had a huge swing from his junior year (12 percent from 3-point range) to his senior year (45 percent), so we’ll have to wait to see how his shot translates at UNLV.
The downside of asking Hardy to carry the entire offense is that he was compelled to force a lot of the action. There were times when he was entirely too aggressive, driving into traffic and either losing the ball, traveling or committing offensive fouls. He also forced some insanely difficult shots:
And there were times when Hardy clearly didn’t trust his teammates to make simple plays. On fast breaks, Hardy almost never gave the ball up, choosing to trust his ability to convert over a defender rather than dishing to a teammate for an open layup.
The burden placed on him also appeared to manifest itself in bad body language when things weren’t going well for his team. When a play failed (often due to a teammate’s inferior ability), there were occasions when Hardy would visibly hang his head, shrug his shoulders, roll his eyes or gesture in a way that put the blame squarely on his teammates:
Again, he was a young man, asked to carry an entire team of novices. And he mostly did a brilliant job of it. Once he gets a chance to play with similarly talented teammates at UNLV, he hopefully won’t feel the need to force so many contested shots or portray such visibly negative emotions on the court.
The aspect of Hardy’s game that proved the most difficult to evaluate was his defense. North Farmington played a 2-3 zone as a base defense, and Hardy spent most of his time hanging out on the baseline, contesting corner 3’s and helping to close up driving lanes in the middle. There were long stretches when he blended into the background.
That was probably by design. If Hardy is responsible for every aspect of the offense, expending massive amounts of energy to create every single shot, it makes sense to employ a defensive alignment that allows him to rest. That strategy worked for Farmington, but it did make it hard to judge Hardy’s man-to-man chops.
What did show up on film were Hardy’s quick hands. We don’t know whether he can stay in front of offensive players in one-on-one situations, but he can certainly get his hands on the ball. Whether poking away someone’s dribble as a primary defender or swiping in on someone else’s man, Hardy created a lot of loose balls last year:
One of Hardy’s favorite moves is to reach in from behind and punch the ball away, which led to a lot of pokeaways in high school but could lead to whistles in Division I. But under a coach like Menzies, who preaches deflections as one of the tenets of his defensive philosophy, Hardy should be able to find a way to contribute on that end of the floor.
But as important as defense is, Hardy is being brought to UNLV to light it up. He can score off the dribble, he’s a promising 3-point shooter and an athletic finisher at the rim. He needs some refinement and a crash course in team offense, but playing with better teammates should help smooth a lot of those edges.
UNLV’s backcourt should be much improved in 2017-18, with Jordan Johnson taking over at point guard and Jovan Mooring sliding to shooting guard. But even with two seniors seemingly entrenched as starters, there is still going to be a lot of playing time available for someone who can break down defenses and score like Hardy.
Look for Hardy to see at least 20 minutes per game, either as a combo guard off the bench or as the third starter in a three-guard backcourt.
Editor’s Note: As the UNLV roster turns over in Marvin Menzies’ first full offseason, the Sun’s Mike Grimala will break down each new incoming recruit.