Josh Hart takes a shot in the paint at New York

Pelicans 2019 preseason profile: Josh Hart

by Jim Eichenhofer

In an era of “one-and-done” players who stop by college basketball for a single season before heading to the pros, Josh Hart was a rare case when he was picked 30th overall in the 2017 NBA Draft. Hart played four seasons at Villanova University, making him almost ancient compared to the other draftees. Prior to being traded to New Orleans this summer, the 6-foot-5, 215-pounder established himself as a rotation player in two seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, but Hart still references draft night when he discusses his plans for Year 3.

“I want to show that I’ve improved and I got better this summer,” said Hart, 24. “I want to show that even though I’m ‘old’ in terms of my draft class, I keep getting better.”

One way to do that is to continue progressing on the defensive end, where he was highly-respected by teammates in L.A. It doesn’t often make the list for NBA players, but when the subject comes up about his long-term career objectives, he mentions only one: “I want to be on one of the NBA All-Defensive teams. That’s a big goal for me.”

“It’s realistic,” said Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram of Hart’s lofty aim, before smiling and joking, “He’s gotta stop fouling… But it’s realistic – he has good feet, his defensive scheme is good. I have confidence in that. If he wants to go for All-Defense, I’m all for that.”

The Lakers were five points per 100 possessions better defensively with Hart on the floor last season and dipped noticeably after the All-Star break, which to a degree might be attributed to Hart being sidelined for 12 of the final 14 games with a knee tendon injury. Given a clean bill of health this summer, he spent part of his offseason focused on that sometimes-overlooked aspect of the game.

“You work on things for your lateral quickness,” Hart said, when asked specifically what a player can do to improve defensively. “You watch film. But at the end of the day, it comes down to your effort, your grit and heart. Everyone can play defense if they want to. No one wants to, because it’s not easy.

“You’re going against LeBron, Giannis, Kawhi, Paul George. You have to face guys who are ball-dominant, guys who come off screens, someone like C.J. McCollum who is all over the court using screens. To be a top defender, you have to deal with those kinds of guys every night, and people don’t want that challenge every night. At the end of the day, it comes down to your heart and effort.”

Ingram, a Lakers first-round pick in ’16, described Hart as exactly that kind of player.

“He’s going to get on the floor for you; he’s going to be in the right spot to take a charge,” Ingram said. “He’s going to be there for you on the defensive end, and come up big in clutch moments, knocking down a three or sometimes being our best player on a (defensive) switch. Whatever it is, he wants to do it and is a competitor. He puts it all on the floor for his teammates.”

Hart – also a 36.1 career three-point shooter who has averaged 7.9 points in 130 career games – believes that mentality will be vital for a New Orleans team seeking to reach the playoffs, after a frustrating ’18-19 that culminated with the multi-player Lakers-Pelicans trade.

“The biggest thing for us is we want to be free-flowing and competitive, be gritty,” Hart said. “I think this is the perfect city for that in terms of those characteristics, and in terms of forgetting the past and moving forward.”

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