Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma are the two names that immediately come to mind when you hear the words “Lakers” and “rookie” in the same sentence. Ball is the ultra-hyped point guard that was taken second overall in 2017 that everyone knows for his play, but more so because of his father’s mouth. Kuzma is the fan favorite, who was selected 27th overall, that has established himself as a Rookie of the Year contender and the clear-cut steal of the draft.
But there’s another steal that took place three spots after Kuzma. That is the 30th and last pick of the first round, and his name is Josh Hart. Since his insertion into the starting lineup, the former Villanova Wildcat has been one of the best players on the team and looking like another late-pick gem the Lakers have grown accustomed to drafting since 2014.
On the surface, his 6.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in 20.4 minutes don’t look that impressive. But that’s because he started off the season in an extremely limited role off the bench. His 46.3% field goal shooting is nothing to scoff at, and his 38.7% three-point shooting is the best on the team.
Heading into Saturday’s matchup against the Dallas Mavericks, he has started in all the Lakers’ four games this month and has seen his minutes increase drastically. As a starter on the season, he is averaging 11.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. Throw in his 49.7% field goal percentage and 40.6% three-point percentage in a healthy 31 minutes, and you have a keeper.
However, he has taken another step this month. In the four games he’s played, he’s averaging 34.5 minutes, 13.5 points, 11 rebounds, and three assists per game while shooting 63.3% from the field and 55.6% from three (making 2.5 threes a game). On top of that, he has been playing good defense and will often time take on the opponent’s best perimeter scorer.
The rebounding is what stands out. He’s a 6’5 shooting guard so you wouldn’t expect him to be a beast on the boards. But that is what has impressed his coach and teammates; an under-the-rim rebounder like Charles Barkley.
He’s earned a starting job for the foreseeable future, and there’s no reason to put him back onto the bench. He is showing what he can do when given a more significant role and is outplaying his competition for the starting shooting guard spot, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Hart may never be a star, but he’s the kind of player you need if you want to be championship-caliber. He does all the little and dirty things, plays good defense, has good basketball IQ, can shoot and rebound. And on top of all that, Hart comes off as a great locker room presence and team chemistry guy. He’s the perfect role player to have come off the bench once you become an elite team.
Because he was a four-year player in college, he slipped in the draft or just wasn’t rated as highly. Just like Kuzma. But he’s an example of how staying multiple years can actually benefit a player. He is physically and mentally mature, learned to play the right way, has a good IQ of the game, and doesn’t seem fazed like a lot of one-and-done guys.
Why teams will never take chances on guys like him is beyond me. They just don’t get the respect because they’re already 22 and don’t have the most dangerous words in sports hovering around them, ‘potential’ or ‘high-upside.’ Sometimes it’s better to take polish over potential.
These kind of guys are the ones you want to surround your stars with. They know how to play. If he continues to play at a high level, it will continue to eat at teams. How the Lakers got both Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart is something that will be pondered upon if the current trend continues. But for now, the Lakers have unearthed another late-round gem.