Josh Hart led the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring with 25 points in the team’s loss to the Utah Jazz on Sunday. But it was his matchup with rookie standout Donovan Mitchell that led to an interesting postgame interview.
Hart’s role steadily increased as the season wore on, and seemingly peaked against the Jazz, as the Lakers were without Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. That type of increased playing time, role and production have increased Hart’s confidence on the defensive end, as he says now he always wants to guard the other team’s “main guy.”
Hart has gotten that wish this season, naming players like DeMar DeRozan, James Harden, LeBron James and Mitchell as a few that stood out to him, and he’s learned one big lesson from the experience.
“I can’t touch them,” Hart deadpanned. “It’s hard, don’t get me wrong. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is I can make it tough on those guys. You can say certain techniques and all that defensively but at the end of the day my mindset coming out of most of those games, besides James Harden flaming me down there, is that I can compete with those guys.”
Hart mentioning Mitchell in that group might seem like a surprise to anyone not named Donovan Mitchell or Utah Jazz fans, but Hart feels as though his fellow rookie is near that tier of scorer.
“Don is very crafty. I think that’s the biggest thing with him. You don’t realize how crafty he is,” Hart explained. “He’s a top offensive talent in the league. He’s proven that. He’s had 40-point games, he’s the leading scorer of a playoff team, and for a lot of the year carried a playoff team in his rookie year.
“Judging him on his body of work this season, he definitely (belongs in the same conversation as Harden and James). And he has the potential to be a great player in the league.”
Hart got a taste of that potential while having to guard Mitchell at times against the Jazz, despite carrying the load for the Lakers offensively. The Rookie of the Year candidate took it to Hart and the Lakers for 28 points, nearly notching a triple-double with nine rebounds and eight assists to help Utah clinch a playoff spot.
But while getting lit up like that, or having Harden go for 51 on him, is an opportunity for young players like Hart to learn to compete better on defense, he doesn’t feel like there is much he can learn offensively from the experience.
“I mean, I’m a totally different offensive player than James Harden. I can take small things that he does and kind of use it to my advantage. But it’s tough. Offensively, I’m much more different than other guys,” Hart said.
Obviously the Lakers wouldn’t say no to Hart turning into that type of scorer, but it seems unlikely. Nonetheless, Hart has shown this season that he can be a huge part of the team’s future moving forward, and whatever added boost his increasing confidence gives him offensively is just a bonus.