(Erica Rodriguez/Los Angeles Lakers)
2019 Player Capsule: Josh Hart
Josh Hart had been building on a strong rookie season that he followed up by earning MVP honors at the Las Vegas Summer League by serving as a valuable role player, and skilled glue guy for a team that stood in the middle of the Western playoff chase in late December.
But that’s also when the National Champ at Villanova began to feel pain in his right knee that ultimately ended his season at 67 games, and eventually resulted in a ultrasonic debridement procedure on his right knee patellar tendon on March 28. He’s expected to make a full recovery and return to basketball activities around June 28.
“It was a frustrating from end of December with the inability to explode off of it,” said Hart. “Now, just focused on getting better and rehabbing. I’m confident the procedure will work.”
Hart opened the season averaging 11.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals in eight October games, shooting 40.5 percent from three. He continued to shoot the ball well in November (37.5 percent) and December (38.4 percent) until the knee issue clearly limited his ability to jump without pain.
In related news, the 3-point percentage dropped to 22.7 percent in January, and he failed to hit a three in limited February minutes before figuring out how to play through the pain a bit in March, when he shot 36.7 percent from distance in nine games before shutting it down.
Much of Hart’s value, however, can’t be measured in percentages, as he was often the player to get the key loose ball, box out for the key rebound, run the floor in transition at the right time to finish through traffic or switch onto a bigger player and defend the post. The Lakers very much missed having him at full strength, able to fully deploy his NFL linebacker frame against opponents.
Nonetheless, Hart finished the season third on the team in net rating (0.2) behind only Alex Caruso and LeBron James. His impact was evidently positive, even when he wasn’t close to 100 percent.
BY THE NUMBERS
104.1: Hart’s defensive rating for the season, which ranked second on the Lakers (Alex Caruso) for players averaging at least 20 minutes per game.
34.1: His shooting percentage on catch and shoot threes, a number which Hart knows should go up significantly next season (he shot 41.3 percent as a rookie).
1.4: Assists per game for Hart, who was in more of a finishing role by either quickly shooting threes, or driving to the rim as a complement to LeBron, Lonzo Ball, Rajon Rondo or Brandon Ingram as playmakers.
Like several of his young teammates, Hart’s main priority this offseason is to get healthy. With a target date of late June for that, he’ll theoretically have July, August and September to get back in basketball shape, and hone various areas of his game upon which he’d like to see improvement.
Last offseason, that included working on his ballhandling and playmaking, in case the Lakers needed him to do additional work in transition or in the half court, which he showcased in Vegas. His perimeter shot was very consistently in the high 30’s from his rookie season to the middle of year two before the knee pain kicked in, but he’d surely like to get that number into the low 40’s.
The good news for the Lakers is that the little things Hart is terrific at can’t necessarily be taught, but are just part of a player’s make up and character. Those “glue” elements are well established, so he can focus on the technical aspects such as shooting, dribbling or perimeter defensive techniques once he gets healthy.
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