When the Los Angeles Lakers drafted Josh Hart with the final pick of the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, the book on him was that he was a four-year guy who knew how to win. A player who would do the little things and make an impact without needing a ton of touches.
Early on in the season Hart didn’t get much of an opportunity to show those skills. It’s hard for non-lottery rookies to earn playing time, and Hart was forced to wait for his shot.
It wasn’t long, however, before Hart started receiving spot minutes while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was on work release and couldn’t travel with the Lakers on the road. It was a shot Hart parlayed into a regular role in the rotation.
Since Caldwell-Pope came back full-time, Hart has seen his role diminish. At least until Friday, when Luke Walton replaced Tyler Ennis with Hart in the Lakers’ starting lineup.
Hart took that chance and (literally) ran with it, using non-stop movement, hustle, and, well, heart to finish with 15 points on 62.5 percent shooting to go with a career-high 14 rebounds as he helped L.A. steal a 102-99 win on the road.
After the game, Walton praised Hart for the “toughness” and “physical presence” he brought to the game. Early on, Hart was doing all the little things that were advertised in his pre-draft scouting report.
The rookie was moving constantly into space on offense while using an intuitive sense on when to cut to rack up a few early offensive rebounds. Hart said hitting the glass was his goal against Brooklyn.
The defensive boards might have been where Hart brought the most value. The Villanova product helped the Lakers push pace in a way they’ve mostly lacked with Ennis replacing the injured Lonzo Ball.
Hart is not Ball, but he can take the ball and run, making kamikaze nosedives to the basket for dunks in transition to help the Lakers score before defenses can get set.
Hart made his presence felt in other ways on defense as well. He at times might a little too twitchy for his own good, but Hart’s athleticism and activity was a net-positive for the Lakers in Brooklyn. The steals he swiped further helping the Lakers avoid having to test their moribund halfcourt offense in the same way as his rebound-and-runs.
Hart is also the Lakers’ second best 3-point shooter at 36.6 percent from behind the arc. He came up big in that department for the Lakers as he hit three triples against Brooklyn, including a huge one that showed his value as a floor spacer with just over three minutes left to give the Lakers a 99-95 lead.
And it wouldn’t be a solid game from Hart if it didn’t come with a winning play only the eye test would pick up, with his recovery of a loose ball with 13 seconds left and the Lakers leading by two giving the team the ability to hang on for the win.
Hart isn’t going to be in the rising stars game, and he isn’t going to make any of the all-rookie teams. What he is going to do is help the Lakers win, potentially for years to come.
For a player that almost fell into the second round that’s an incredible value, and yet another win for the Lakers’ vaunted scouting department that continues to find incredible value later in the draft.
All video courtesy of NBA.com.