Heading into the 2017-18 season, much was made about Lonzo Ball and how the Los Angeles Lakers would develop with him leading a young roster. On the fringe of the conversation were the team’s ‘other’ picks from the 2017 NBA Draft: Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Thomas Bryant.
Kuzma quickly played his way into the conversation as being an integral part of the Lakers’ core. Hart accomplished the same by the end of the season. So much so that Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson expressed a desire to have a team full of players like Hart.
“If we can have 20 of him, this guy is unbelievable,” Johnson said during his and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka’s exit interview. “He’s a winner, he’s tough, plays on both ends of the court.
“I think he’s one of the best rebounding guards in the league. If you think about the guy in OKC, after him, I think Josh is second as a rebounding guard.”
Hart suffered a sprained ankle during last year’s Las Vegas Summer League, then dealt with hamstring and Achilles trouble in training camp. It perhaps stunted Hart’s development, which in turn led to a brief stretch with the South Bay Lakers of the G League.
As injuries decimated the Lakers’ depth, Hart was pressed into a starting role. He immediately capitalized on the opportunity, only for yet another injury to disrupt his momentum.
After returning from a fracture in his left hand, Hart averaged 16.5 points and 7.1 rebounds in eight games (three starts) to close out the regular season. Included in that was four onsecutive games with at least 20 points, joining Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, Phoenix’s Josh Jackson and Kuzma as the only rookies to accomplish such a feat.
He also finished as the Lakers’ best 3-point shooter, knocking down 39.6 percent of his attempts. Despite his ability to connect from deep, Hart believes his all-around play meant he shouldn’t be considered a 3-and-D player.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton agreed, and Johnson is clearly one of Hart’s staunchest supporters.