Pelicans 2021 preseason profile: Josh Hart

Anyone who follows Josh Hart online knows that he enjoys things like European soccer, interacting with fans on Twitter and non-fungible tokens (NFTs, as they’re known to the tech-savvy).

Basketball analytics? Not so much.

“Personally, I’m not a fan of analytics,” Hart said. “Obviously it has its benefits, but there are a lot of things you can’t measure in numbers. Analytics are a lamppost for a drunk person: You can lean on them, you can rely on them, but they won’t get you home.”

Hart’s career scoring average is a modest 8.7 points and he’s a 34.8 percent three-point shooter over his four NBA seasons, but there’s are plenty of reasons New Orleans wanted to re-sign the feisty, rugged 6-foot-5 guard/forward to a contract extension this summer. The Villanova product has often been a game-changing reserve in his two seasons with the Pelicans, who noticeably missed Hart’s presence late in the 2020-21 campaign. New Orleans was in the thick of the Western Conference play-in race at 21-26 when Hart sustained a season-ending injury April 1 vs. Orlando, but then lost eight of its next 13 games, severely damaging any hopes of making the playoffs.

Facing the Magic again in the Smoothie King Center in Wednesday’s preseason win, Hart delivered nine points, six rebounds and four assists. Perhaps the biggest number? The Pelicans outscored the Magic by 10 points in just 21 minutes with Hart on the floor.

You may never be able to summarize Hart’s nightly contributions purely via data, because there are no advanced statistics to reflect some of what the 2016 NCAA champion brings to a team. Hart is adept at fighting for hotly-contested rebounds, making hustle plays and aggressively running the floor, all traits that sometimes benefit a teammate’s statistics more than his own. His hard-nosed style – combined with his accessibility on social media – has helped make him a fan favorite in the Smoothie King Center.

“I’m a competitive player, I’m very passionate,” Hart said. “I do a lot of things that don’t show up on the box score. So if you want to just measure my performance or impact on the game by just my points or rebounds or three-point percentage, you’re not going to get the whole picture. (Statistics don’t) show your ability to impact the game without scoring. It doesn’t show your ability to get your teammates going, to bring energy. It doesn’t show any of those things.”

A native of Washington, D.C., Hart actually focused more on baseball than basketball as a youngster, but he gradually realized that hoops was more suited to his personality than hardball. Often one of the most intense, demonstrative players on the court, Hart joked that observing Major League Baseball follow some of its “unwritten rules” has only further convinced him that he chose the right sport.

“I played baseball as a kid,” a smiling Hart explained. “I wish I had played soccer, because I love soccer. But baseball is very stationary and I think that’s why I kind of got weaned off of it. It was too slow. Plus, you can’t express yourself very much, and if you do, you’re going to get a 98 mph ball thrown behind your head or into your back. So I kind of gave up that one.

“I really liked the competitive aspect of basketball and the ability to show my passion about something I really loved. Basketball was a great avenue to show those things.”