When Josh Hart was taken with the last pick (30th overall) in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, he entered the league with a reputation or expectation of being a player who would play steady defense and provide adequate floor spacing with his shooting.
But rather than become boxed in by the “3-and-D” label placed on many athletic wing players, Hart has worked to carve out a larger role for himself in his rookie season with the Los Angeles Lakers. “I think 3-and-D, the biggest thing with that is, you guard the best player and then you stand in the corner and wait to get the ball to make your shot,” Hart said.
“I think I do a lot more things than that. I can defend some of the best players, I can rebound, I can push it, make plays off the dribble and that kind of thing. I don’t label myself a 3-and-D guy because I’m not going to sell myself short.”
That type of confidence extends beyond Hart simply believing in himself. “Throughout the season, every time he gets the opportunity to play big minutes or have a bigger role, he’s been pretty good for us,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton said.
“He’s one of our best finishers, he’s one of our best rebounders, he can push it in transition. I would agree with you, saying he’s a 3-and-D guy is limiting his potential as player.”
Julius Randle added: “He’s been great. He got sent to the G League for a couple games; had to get that aggressiveness and that edge back. Once he did, he came back and he’s been tremendous ever since. Game-by-game getting better.”
While there was steady improvement in his production as the season wore on, Hart has been particularly effective since returning from a fractured bone in his left hand. It’s coincided with the Lakers losing Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma to injuries.
“When they’re out, I just have to take on a little bit of a bigger role,” Hart said. In five games this month he’s averaging 13.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and two assists. Hart enters play Tuesday coming off back-to-back 20-point games for the first time in his career.
Prior to the All-Star break, he averaged just 6.3 points and averaged 21 minutes per game. In nine games since, the 23-year-old is averaging 13.1 points and nearly 33 minutes. The larger role is one Walton has actively worked to get Hart.
“As the season has gone along we’ve drawn up more ATOs (after-timeout plays) for him to where we’re specifically trying to get him a shot or matchup that we like with him in it,” Walton explained.
“He’s done a really nice job of finishing those plays and taking advantage of them. He’s someone, as a coaching staff, we have a lot of confidence in.”
That trust has fueled Hart. “I’m more confident. When I first got in I was more timid offensively,” he admitted. “I just tried to make my name on defense. Now, I’m a lot more comfortable. Even defensively, wanting to guard the main guy.
“As a rookie coming in, I think the biggest thing you want to do is make a name for yourself on the team and prove to the guys that you belong here. To have the trust of your teammates and coaches, that’s the biggest thing.”
Great as Hart has been for the Lakers, Walton sees room for more growth. “I think he’s another one of these guys that’s going to have a big offseason now that he’s got to experience guarding James Harden, guarding other teams’ best players, elite scorers,” he said.
“And also figured out where he can get his shots and things of that nature. He’s done a really good job of just consistently working and being professional with the opportunities that he’s had.”
Though, if you ask Hart, there’s already been a lesson learned when it comes to defending some of the best offensive players the league has to offer. “I can’t touch them,” he deadpanned.