(Ty Nowell/Los Angeles Lakers)
Hart Showing Real Starting Signs
In his last three games, Josh Hart is averaging 14.7 points on 71.4 percent shooting from the field and 61.5 percent from three, plus (a team-best) 12.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals with 1.0 turnovers.
In related news, the Lakers won all three games, with Brandon Ingram sliding over to the point guard spot and Hart starting alongside KCP on the wing.
Sure, it's a small sample size, but it's notable nonetheless, especially for the No. 30 overall pick in the 2017 Draft.
"I don't think you ever plan on counting on a late first round pick in their rookie season," said Luke Walton. "You try to get them minutes where you can, and develop them. But he's done a nice job every time he's been called on, being ready, and helping us win. Like all young players, he has a lot to still work on and he'll get a lot better as his career goes on, but pretty impressive what he's been able to do as a rookie in his opportunities."
To put Walton's comment about not necessarily counting on immediate production from a late first rounder into a bigger-picture context … what if the Lakers can not only count on Hart's immediate production, but think about him as a starting-caliber wing player moving forward?
Hart has proven himself to his coaches on the defensive end, helping a team that ranked 30th last season on that end to being the 11th-best team through 53 games. Meanwhile, he's leading the team in three-point percentage (38.7 percent) and shooting 46.4 percent overall.
"He's done a nice job of bringing us some more toughness," said Walton. "His rebounding is one of the strengths of what he does, but he's even taken it to another level. He plays basketball the right way, which is what we're trying to do. He shoots it when he should shoot it, he drives and kicks when he should do that. It's been a nice little run that he's helped us go on.
"We joke, we call him Charles Barkley," said Julius Randle. "He's great, especially from that guard position, then coming in and helping the bigs get boards. He's huge for us."
Hart played four years at Villanova, winning a National Championship in 2016, and has learned where to focus his attention on the court.
"Just toughness, that's the biggest thing," he said after L.A. beat Phoenix on Tuesday. "Just trying to get up the energy on the glass and on the defensive end."
I asked if that's helped him to play loose on the offensive end, where he's been particularly efficient of late, hitting 15 of his last 21 shots and eight of his last 13 3-pointers.
"It's really funny, because whenever you're not focused on those things, they kind of just tend to come, and that's how basketball is," he allowed. "You focus on the little details and playing the game the right way, and sometimes you get rewarded for that. That's just a testament to my teammates finding me when I'm open and I think that's the biggest thing."
For the first two months of the season, it was Kyle Kuzma - very fairly - getting a lot of attention and praise for how well he was playing, and the Lakers getting praise for finding him at No. 27 overall.
With what Josh Hart has increasingly showed, maybe GM Rob Pelinka and Asst. GM/Director of Scouting Jesse Buss found not one, but two legit starting-caliber players with two of the last four picks of the first round?
That remains to be seen, but both rookies are off to a pretty good start.