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The Underrated Game of Josh Hart

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Many NBA fans may not be familiar with Los Angeles Lakers guard Josh Hart, as the spotlight often shines instead on All-NBA rookies and fellow Lakers Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma. Hart’s 7.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game averages last season do not jump off the stat sheet at first glance. However, Hart’s play deserves just as much recognition as many other 2018 rookies. While last season’s Summer League propelled Ball and Kuzma to league-wide popularity, in this year’s tournament, Hart stole the show. Winning MVP of the Las Vegas competition, Hart broke ahead of the field with 22.4 points and 4.7 rebounds on 45 percent shooting from the field, leading his team to the championship round.   

Hart’s game is not flashy by any means. However, that may just make him more dangerous for unsuspecting opponents. His fine all-around game features solid three-point shooting, tenacious rebounding, lockdown defense and a special ability to finish around the basket, making the Villanova alumnus a valuable addition to any team.

Three-point shooting

Only one rookie shooting guard, Luke Kennard, shot the ball from downtown better than Hart last season. Shooting 39.6 percent from three-point range, Hart provided reliable shooting from the perimeter last season and spaced the floor extremely well, often burning opponents who did not respect him from the outside.

Rebounding

Hart’s 4.7 rebounds per game average last year does not sound that impressive, but there’s a reason his teammates refer to him as “Josh Barkley.” Fighting even against much bigger players for boards, the 6-foot, 5-inch guard often came up with the ball after a miss. During his most impressive stretch during the beginning of March, Hart posted three straight double doubles by scoring in double digits each game while grabbing 14, 11 and 11 rebounds each in three consecutive wins. For the month, he averaged 7.4 rebounds per game, looking like a bull even amongst centers as he used his lower body strength effectively to position himself for loose balls.

Defense

Also outstanding was Hart’s ability to guard one-on-one on the defensive end. In the following sequence, Hart forces a difficult shot and miss from Paul George and quickly snatches the rebound.

Hart’s defensive instincts were especially notable when guarding larger opponents. The sturdy 23-year-old made it tough for any player to get a good shot up off the dribble and contributed to the Lakers’ vastly improved defensive efficiency last season, which ranked 13th in the NBA according to teamrankings.com (up from dead last in 2017).

Finishing around the basket

Perhaps most impressive was Hart’s ability to score close to the rim. Last season, the guard showed unique body control when attacking the basket, absorbing contact from various defenders to finish plays. His scoring prowess under the rim, coupled with his strong rebounding abilities, often served the Lakers well in transition. After a rebound, Hart was capable of pushing the ball ahead immediately, often going coast to coast for a layup even through heavy traffic.

Also notable regarding Hart’s skill around the basket was his unorthodox footwork in the paint. Almost always, players are taught to leap off of their opposite foot when going up for a layup. However, Hart often jumped off of his right foot when shooting a right-handed layup. This unique touch may have confused defenders if even just a little, throwing off the timing of contests and helping Hart score more efficiently in the key.

Therefore, Hart was a valuable two-way threat on offense. Not only could he hit from long distance if defenders sagged off, he could also drive inside for a closer look if defenders got too close to him on the perimeter.

Hart’s repertoire was on full display in a game against the Rockets last December in what was arguably his breakout performance of the year.

As the 30th overall pick from the 2017 NBA draft, Hart has emerged as a valuable part of the Lakers’ young core. Although Ball and Kuzma are more often considered the golden pieces of the draft, Hart proved himself to be a hidden gem, and the Lakers are fortunate to have him.

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