LeBron James, Josh Hart High 5

Josh Hart Impresses with Unexpected Big-Man Plays

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

Luke Walton couldn’t help but grin when reflecting on a play from the night before.

In the second quarter of the Lakers’ second preseason game, Josh Hart was defended by Nikola Jokic. He and Rajon Rondo recognized this, and ran a pick-and-roll, with the 6-foot-5 Hart scoring as the roll man.

“It was beautiful, wasn’t it?” Walton said.

For a team built upon the philosophy of “positionless basketball,” it doesn’t get much more emblematic than a shooting guard rolling to the rim against a traditional center.

While the Lakers — after just one week of practice — haven’t put a ton of time into having Hart perform untraditional tasks, Walton called it a “theme” that the team has been working on.

Walton credited Hart’s basketball IQ for assessing the situation: He, a strong finisher at the rim, being guarded by Jokic, a far-from-intimidating defender.

“We haven’t had a lot of work on it,” Walton said at Wednesday’s practice, “but they did a nice job of recognizing who they put Jokic on and putting him into the pick-and-roll, and Josh playing the big-man spot.”

Hart — who scored 14 points with four assists against Denver — started in place of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, as Walton assesses who will start at shooting guard this season.

Some of the skills that Hart brings are obvious. Three-point shooting, transition offense, rebounding and perimeter defense are likely the first that come to mind.

But Hart has plenty of hidden talents as well, which are accentuated by his supreme confidence.

He also found himself switched onto Jokic defensively on Tuesday, and scrapped with the 250-pounder to make him catch the ball far from where he wanted.

Rondo double-teamed Jokic — one of the game’s best passing bigs — and Jokic exploited this by feeding an assist to Rondo’s original man. Afterward, Hart insisted that he didn’t need the help in the post.

“He’s cocky when it comes to defense,” Walton said. “… During the timeout he said, ‘Don’t come. I’m fine. I’m good over there. I don’t need it.’ So he takes a lot of pride in the fact that he can guard bigger players.”

The Lakers’ starting center certainly noticed Hart playing like a big man.

“I like that little screen-and-roll,” JaVale McGee laughed. “He’s about to take my job.”

McGee said that Hart — who had zero possessions as a roll man last season, per NBA.com — could be finishing rolls with dunks by mid-season. As for Hart taking his job as the starting five?

“Let me do me, man,” McGee laughed. “Stick to shooting 3’s, man!”

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