When the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs were seriously discussing a potential Kawhi Leonard trade, there was a belief that Josh Hart would be sent to the Spurs in the event of a deal.
Hart, 23, was a collegiate national champion at Villanova and the Lakers selected him with the No. 30 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. It seems the Leonard talks have since slowed, but keeping Hart may be a good thing because the sophomore guard projects to be a great fit alongside LeBron James.
Hart has looked sharp in recent exhibition games for the Lakers. In fact, he has led the team to three consecutive summer-league victories, which has caught the attention of James, whose opinion will certainly matter for Los Angeles moving forward.
Here is what James said about the second-year player, according to general manager Rob Pelinka (via NBA.com):
“We talked about the roster. The work he’s already putting in and how he’s going to bring that work ethic to everyone on the team. He’s been watching summer league games, [he] brought up Josh Hart. There’s not a lot of fanfare. He’s not looking to celebrate signing, he’s looking to celebrate championships and he made that real clear.”
In five games this summer, Hart has averaged 18.8 points and 3.2 three-pointers per game while shooting 44.4 percent from downtown. Last season, he led the Lakers with a 39.6 three-point percentage.
James is known for helping catch-and-shoot players elevate their game because defenders have to account for him so much when the ball is in his hands. Many times, these type of players (e.g. Kyle Korver in Cleveland, Ray Allen in Miami and others) end up with wide-open opportunities from beyond the arc.
Even without James on the team, Hart already shot an impressive 41.6 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts last season.
He averaged 1.24 points per possession on these opportunities. Among Western Conference players with two or more catch-and-shoot possessions per game, Hart ranked No. 12 overall (putting him ahead of excellent shooters like Klay Thompson, CJ McCollum and Lou Williams).
He did this as a rookie without a superstar offensive threat creating easy looks for him each night. Imagine what he’ll be able to do alongside James as he continues developing?
It’s worth noting that 62 of the 74 three-pointers that Hart hit when he was a senior in college were catch-and-shoot attempts, per Krossover.com.
The catch-and-shoot three is Hart’s biggest strength, which means he’ll be able to complement James extremely well. While it may still make sense for the Lakers to include him in a potential deal for Leonard (since Leonard is an elite player), Hart is someone who could be a key contributor for years to come in Los Angeles – especially if James elevates his game the way he’s done for so many other shooters.
Keep in mind, James has been enamored with collegiate national champions (e.g. Shabazz Napier, Mario Chalmers and Kemba Walker) and Hart fits that bill as well.
His skill set can continue to improve, especially when he’s on the court with James. In fact, there’s a case to be made that Hart should be in the starting lineup, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Lance Stephenson coming off the bench. At the very least, Hart and James should play together quite a bit.