Josh Hart didn’t play in the Summer League last year, when the Los Angeles Lakers won their league’s championship with rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, as he was dealing with an injury at the time. The former Villanova standout did get a chance to participate this summer, however, and he did not waste a single minute out on the court. He averaged 27 minutes per game in 7 contests, and he posted 22.4 points per game (third in the league), 1.3 steals per game, and led the league in field goals attempted (114) and field goals made (51). His outstanding performance earned him the Summer League MVP trophy, and it reportedly “opened Magic Johnson‘s eyes,” per the article.
Hart did get into 63 games for a largely less-talented Lakers team last season (starting in 23 of them), and he put up some very solid numbers. He averaged 7.9 PPG in 23.2 MPG, and also shot a very solid 39.6% from three-point range (78-for-197). Given that his career three-point percentage in college was 38.9%, his solid season from deep last year appears to be no fluke. And on a team that now includes key distributors like Ball, LeBron James, and the newly acquired veteran Rajon Rondo, having a guy that can spot up behind the arc and drill down the deep ball may be more important to this team’s offense than ever.
This year he will be fighting for all of the playing time he can get, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (commonly referred to as KCP) would be the guy Hart is most likely to battle with for minutes. Even though KCP does appear to be the one most likely to be bumped out of the rotation on a regular basis in favor of Hart, he is still a very solid player himself. The 25-year-old averaged 13.4 PPG for the Lakers last season and set a career high with a 38.8% three-point percentage. It is notably higher than his 34.5% career mark from deep and he has also shot as low as 30.9% from three-point range in a season, so his shooting percentage from behind the arc could determine whether or not he will continue to get the edge in playing time over Hart.
This battle on the bench could also end up working in the Lakers’ favor. Hart seems to have caught the eye of Magic, and that theoretically makes him less likely to be dealt (unless the return package was right). That makes KCP, a young player with upside and a contract that expires at the end of the year, a good candidate to be dealt. The way this team is built right now I could see the Lakers wanting to give KCP some extra minutes in the early/mid part of the year in hopes that someone would want to trade for him. Given his age and short contract (perfect for a team wanting to shed cap space entering next offseason), he could be dealt individually or as part of a package with Luol Deng – if the team can find anyone willing to take on the rest of his $18 million salary for this year – in exchange for draft picks or younger players they feel have good potential.
Hart’s performance in Las Vegas was certainly impressive and fun to watch, but we need to keep in mind that it is still the Summer League. If he averaged 25 points per game against top tier players like James Harden or Damian Lillard, then that would be an entirely different conversation. But the fact of the matter is that none of the players that guarded him this summer have the kind of talent that those elite defenders in the Western Conference do right now, and that’s okay. The Summer League is a time for young players who don’t see the floor that much during their first few years in the league (or are down in the G League), to see some action and try to earn a more prominent role on an NBA team in the future.
Josh Hart did play exceptionally well in the Summer League this year, but that alone likely will not turn into more minutes for him in the immediate future. There are plenty of ways for the Lakers to go with this current roster, and if/when they tinker with it Hart should be more than ready to step into a larger role.
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