The clear front-runner for NBA Rookie of the Year is Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks. The young Slovenian forward is averaging 19.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.9 assists and looks to be the next superstar in the NBA.
But he has struggled against the Los Angeles Lakers thanks to versatile defenders like Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram. In his first two games against the Lakers, Doncic averaged just 10 points on 29.1 percent shooting.
He was better in Monday’s contest, finishing with 27 points on 10-of-23 shooting from the field, but he had to earn every point thanks to Hart’s defensive effort all night.
That was something Hart really wanted to do as he explained after the Lakers win that he wanted to pick Doncic up full court to test the rookie, via Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times:
“I wanted to pick him up full and see what his dog was,” Hart said. “That was the biggest thing, he had a couple tough shots and obviously I was happy with that, I don’t really care. I just wanted to see what his dog was, and I just knew, just get up in him, be physical with him and see what happens.”
Both players certainly had their moments in the contest. Many of the highlights will focus on Doncic’s ridiculous behind-the-back stepback that nearly put Hart on the floor. But there were other possessions where Hart’s relentlessness and physicality forced Doncic into tough shots or to give the ball up completely.
The return of Kyle Kuzma certainly sparked the Lakers’ aggression on offense, but Hart set the tone defensively. He played 44 minutes and didn’t sit out the entire second half. Doncic is not one to back down and continued to attack all night, but Hart’s effort was crucial in the Lakers getting back in the win column.
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