When someone makes the argument LeBron James makes his teammates better, there is no better example than the recent struggles of Josh Hart.
Many predicted he would be the Lakers’ most improved player after the addition of James, and he backed that up with solid performances and the data to prove it. The two were a natural fit on the court considering Hart was often able to knock down the looks James opened up for him.
Since the four-time MVP went down with a groin injury on Christmas, the Lakers have three wins and seven losses.
But in the immediate aftermath, Hart was actually the most outwardly confident about how Los Angeles would do even with their superstar recovering on the sidelines (via Silver Screen and Roll):
“The narrative is that it’s LeBron and the Lakers. Obviously, we hope he’s okay, but we’ve got a lot of good players… If he’s down, we’re ready to step up. None of us are scared of the spotlight.”
There was plenty of reason for optimism even without James, specifically with hopes that Hart would play well next to fellow members of L.A.’s young core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma.
The second-year guard has connected on 62-of-135 (45.9 percent) from the field during the 537 minutes that he has played alongside James. The Lakers have outscored their opponents by 7.8 points per 100 possessions when Hart has appeared on the court with James.
But as noted by Alex Regla, no one on the Purple and Gold has struggled quite like Hart in the time he has spent without the King. Hart is in the midst of a brutal sophomore slump.
He is shooting a dreadful 84-of-220 (38.1 percent) in the 663 minutes that he has played without James. Los Angeles has been outscored by 3.2 points per 100 possessions when Hart has appeared without James so far this season.
Perhaps the most noticeable change: Hart was shooting 50-for-129 (38.8 percent) on catch-and-shoot field goals during his appearances leading up to the Christmas Day game against the Golden State Warriors (when LeBron got hurt). But the former Villanova star is shooting an abysmal 12-for-47 (25.5 percent) on these opportunities in the recent games without James.
One reason for this is that defenders have been able to play him much tighter. Before the injury to James, 69.4 percent of his field goal attempts were taken when a defender was at least four feet away. That figure is now down to 63.8 percent.
Perhaps the issue is that he is still recovering from a tweaked ankle suffered in November of 2018. That would explain why he was able to do well last year without James, but has struggled this season.
But more likely, Hart found a bit of a rhythm alongside James and has since struggled without having him on the floor.