Injuries led to starting opportunities being created for Josh Hart last season, but on Tuesday, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton simply wanted a look at a new group. In just the Lakers’ second preseason game, Walton made a change at shooting guard by moving Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to the bench.
Waltone explained his decision was not based on Caldwell-Pope’s play, but rather part of the process of evaluating various lineups and rotations. Hart certainly made the most of it, scoring 14 points and adding three rebounds, four assists and one steal.
“Josh is great at doing the dirty things: fighting over the screens, grabbing the rebounds. Those little things that don’t get valued a lot, but they do by coaches and teammates,” Walton said postgame. “Josh is really good at those. He definitely brought a toughness and an edge to the start of the game. I thought he played very well.”
Brandon Ingram offered similar praise of Hart: “He was really good. I think when he had an opportunity, he definitely went out there and showed what he could do. Defending and shooting the basketball.”
Hart acknowledged being inserted into the starting lineup tends to him playing more aggressively on offense. That rung particularly true with Rajon Rondo and LeBron James on the court with him.
“Those guys are smart, very unselfish, and that’s a great thing for a shooter,” Heart said.
“You hear ‘Bron and Rondo talking about the play we called. They just see everything before it happens. One, it’s crazy to just kind of watch. But two, to be teammates, it makes everything so much easier.”
Hart and Rondo connected on a pick and roll, which on the surface was a foreign development. However, it’s an area Hart looked to grow in. “I’m a roller now,” he quipped, before explaining the development.
“I’ve practiced playing four in small-ball lineups, setting picks, rolling, popping. It’s something I’ve worked on this offseason.”
While the versatility expands his offensive repertoire, how it translate to defense might be most important when it comes to playing time. “There were times in the game today, or even in practice, one day I’ll be guarding the point guard and shooting guard, and the next day I’ll be guarding threes, fours and fives sometimes,” Hart said.
“That’s something that’s very important in our DNA. We want to be a team that’s aggressive and can switch at any position. Right now, basketball is becoming positionless, and we have a team full of versatile guys so it makes everything a lot easier.”
Much was made of Hart winning MVP at the Las Vegas Summer League, but it’s not something he’s touting. “I don’t really think about it,” Hart said.
“I mean, that’s old news. I can’t do anything about that now, so I let that be in the past.”