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Recapping Josh Hart’s Rookie NBA season with the Los Angeles Lakers (feat. a Q&A with Silver Screen and Roll)

A double-double in his first start, Twitch gaming, social media trolling, a hand injury—and a look back at Josh Hart’s NBA rookie season.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Los Angeles Lakers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA Finals are around the corner. With the end of the season approaching, a few awards and accolades are also on their way. Earlier this week, the NBA released its All-Rookie Teams.

Kyle Kuzma, Lauri Markkanen, Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons, and Jayson Tatum were given first team honors.

Lonzo Ball, Bogdan Bogdanovic, John Collins, Josh Jackson, and Dennis Smith Jr. made second team.

Aside from those 10 players, 15 more received votes, but didn’t make either team. Among those unrepresented in the rookie accolades is Josh Hart, who saw two Los Angeles Lakers teammates receive All-Rookie honors. While arguing over a vote might definitely be a minuscule thing to be upset over, Hart went a bit under-the-radar, even after he started picking up his play midway through the season. As a matter of fact, the former Villanova Wildcat had a pretty solid rookie year.

Hart came to the Lakers after being selected 30th overall by the Utah Jazz in a Draft Day trade. Magic Johnson praised Hart and hoped that he could bring some winning culture to a young Lakers squad. After all, Hart was one of the members in the winningest class in Villanova Basketball history, and he has a championship ring to his name.

His start in Los Angeles was a bit rocky, as he battled some nagging ankle injuries before the season began. He finally got his break in mid-December, when he got his first career start against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He impressed against the defending champions with a 11 point, 10 rebound double-double. While Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was amidst legal troubles that forbade him from leaving the state of California, it was Hart’s gain, as he got more starts and minutes.

Los Angeles got to see the things he was great at in college, carry over to the NBA. His hard-nosed defense and tenacious rebounding made him an asset, especially with the way he was able to hold his own against opposing ‘1s’ through ‘4s’. Offensively, three-point shooting is always welcomed in the league, and Hart was able to deliver.

His rookie season took a bit of an unwanted detour, when he--like three other Villanova Wildcats--suffered a hand injury that kept him sidelined for a bit. However, he returned to action for the last few weeks of the year, and saved his best for last. He scored a career-high 30 points against the Los Angeles Clippers in the season finale, where he also drained 7-of-9 three-pointers from long range.

Josh Hart’s Rookie Stats

63 23 23.2 176-375 0.469 78-197 0.396 66-94 0.702 0.7 3.5 4.2 1.3 0.3 0.7 1.7 0.7 7.9

Hart’s numbers were pretty good, considering how his season began slowly and that he wasn’t a full-time starter. He amassed 496 points this season (15th most for NBA rookies). Compared to other rookies, with qualifying stats, he had the third-highest three-point shooting percentage in the league, right behind Boston’s Jayson Tatum (43.4 percent) and Detroit’s Luke Kennard (41.5 percent). Among all rookie guards in the NBA, he was just second to Ben Simmons in field goal percentage. He was also a top-five rebounding rookie guard, which helped him get eight double-doubles--the sixth-most for rookies.

Looking at Hart’s production compared to a few of the players that did receive votes, it’s a little head-scratching to see him not get any love. However, I want to put away the Villanova perspective, so I spoke to Alex Regla from the Los Angeles Lakers SB Nation site, Silver Screen & Roll, to gain a west coast view on the former Villanova Wildcat.

NBA All-Rookie Teams were released Tuesday afternoon. Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball made it, and kudos to them, but how do you feel about Josh Hart not receiving a single vote?

Let me preface my response by first saying this: I’ll die on Josh Hart hill. Yes, there is an obvious bias coming from someone who watched nearly every minute of the Lakers’ season and covered the team extensively over at Silver Screen and Roll, but in reality there is a substantial level of disbelief when seeing Hart receive not one single recognition for what was a wonderfully solid rookie season.

This is not to disregard or single out any of the players who did receive all-rookie votes, because this potentially was one of the better draft classes in recent memory. Yet, what Hart was able to provide this Lakers’ team through his near 40 percent three-point shooting, switchability on defense, and a level of contagious grit, encapsulated what ultimately was a tonal shift on and off the floor for the purple and gold. That in itself is worth a vote in my book.

What were your first impressions of Josh Hart, when you heard the Lakers had picked him up, as well as his play early on?

I remember gobbling up every prospect breakdown on Josh Hart available on YouTube, when it was announced the Lakers acquired his rights from Utah on draft night. Initially, I thought Hart was everything the team needed in a guard at a time where the front-office shipped out former number two overall pick D’Angelo Russell, former sixth man of the year Lou Williams, and presumably letting Nick Young walk after coming off arguably his best NBA season. The team was depleted of guard depth, and Hart’s assumed combination of shooting and defense were exactly what they team needed.

Hart’s Laker career got off to a rocky start suffering an injury during summer league, the preseason and being hindered during the team’s training camp. Yet, the moment he received consistent rotational minutes he showed the glimpses of what he was capable of and arguably by season’s end not only lived up to expectations, but exceeded them.

On a scale from ‘A+’ through ‘F,’ how would you grade Hart’s rookie season? What has impressed you the most about him, and what area would you like to see some improvement

I think I would grade Hart somewhere in the solid B to B+ range. Two aspects impressed me the most about Josh this season, for one he simply helped the team establish a defensive identity. The switch heavy Lakers relied on players like Hart to be able to defend multiple positions on the floor, and in multiple instances when finding himself cross-matched against a big in the post, Hart simply held his ground and embraced the challenge with his stout physique. The team jumped from the 29th worst defensive ranking all the way to 13th this prior season thanks to the contributions Hart and the team’s new defensive versatility provided.

The other aspect to Hart’s game that impressed me the most was his shooting. Like his defense, I knew going in they were his foray, yet I did not expect him to come in and immediately be a knock down shooter off the catch. Now, he did not shoot much in terms of off the dribble and through his own self-creation (which are areas I hope he improves on over the summer and has stated such as personal goals) but the ability to simply catch and shoot at an efficient clip is worlds of value in the modern NBA.

Are you #TeamJosh or #TeamKyle? Who is a better troll?

I’m team Josh all the way here. Although both are generally considered as “older rookies” with their extended collegiate careers, Josh simply has a level of maturity to his sense of humor that I relate more earnestly to. From his Jim Halpert-like stares into the cameras, to his devastating one liner comments on teammate’s social media pages, he has truly proven to be an all-NBA caliber troll.

Villanova can possibly have four players enter this year’s draft: Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman, and Donte DiVincenzo, if the last two decide to commit to the process. Any of those guys on your wishlist? If not (we won’t be offended--okay, maybe a tad), who would you love to see the Lakers draft?

Villanova simply is a proven breeding ground for pumping out quality, NBA ready prospects like Josh Hart, so I would be lying if I were to say I would be turned off in terms of any of these names. Obviously a player like Mikal Bridges will presumably be off the board by the time the Lakers are on the clock, but the others named—specifically Donte DiVincenzo—could be in play with the team’s number 25 pick. The championship game standout recently interviewed with the team at the NBA draft-combine and fits a few needs for the team.

For one, the team could benefit greatly from an added shot diversity to their team as they ranked 29th in the league in three-point percentage last season. Also the Lakers could be intrigued by his athleticism and NBA ready frame, which possibly could lead to some multi-positional ability down the road. Omari Spellman is another name the team could be considering, possibly with their second round selection as they just worked him out recently. His pick and pop ability and floor spacing upside from the front-court position could be something the team covets going forward if the team decides to part ways with Julius Randle.

As far as Jalen Brunson, the guy simply is a gamer in all respects. The Lakers severely lacked backup point-guard depth last season and could benefit greatly with a dependable presence like Brunson helping Lonzo Ball along. That being said, all the Villanova guys are currently on the backburner of my personal wishlist---Sorry.

Without getting too far into the weeds of my big board, I have three clear cut guys I am holding out hope for in terms of the team’s first round pick---Jontay Porter, De’Anthony Melton, and Kevin Huerter (also a certain amount of fondness for Elie Okobo).

But hey, if it ends up being a Vilanova guy, Josh Hart certainly has sold me on what the program has to offer at the next level.