Josh Hart has dominated the NBA’s Summer League in Las Vegas, which shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who saw him play as a rookie. The Los Angeles Lakers grabbed the Villanova star with the 30th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and have clearly gotten a steal. In the four games he’s played in Vegas, Hart is averaging 22.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals in 27.5 minutes per game.
Hart’s development isn’t just a Summer League mirage, it’s clear he’s made big adjustments to his game. And it’s more proof the Lakers should keep their young core intact rather than break it up with with short-sighted trades.
As a rookie last season, Hart saw time in 63 games for the Lakers, starting 23. He averaged 7.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 23.2 minutes per game. The tough-minded guard also hit 39.6 percent of his shots from 3-point range. While those are solid numbers, they don’t tell the whole story.
The 23-year-old got the chance to get some real run at the end of the year and shined. In the Lakers’ final eight games, he averaged 16.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 34.9 minutes per game. He also shot 39.1 percent from deep.
Hart can flat-out play, we had plenty of evidence to prove that during his three seasons at Villanova. It’s clear he was supremely undervalued during the 2017 draft.
After the first 20 or so picks in the draft teams typically target upside. Whether that means going after younger players who drop, guys with insane athleticism or European “lottery ticket” talents, NBA franchises shoot for the moon when the top talent is off the board. Over the past few seasons the Lakers have eschewed that philosophy and gone for proven college players. It has paid off tremendously.
In 2014, they grabbed Jordan Clarkson at No. 46, in 2015 they took Larry Nance Jr. 27th, in 2017 they selected Kyle Kuzma at 27 and Hart at 30. This year they snagged Moritz Wagner at 25 and Svi Mykhailiuk at 47. All of those guys were decorated college players who spent at least three years in college. And they all either are or look like useful NBA pieces.
More to the point: Hart is currently part of a stellar young core the Lakers have to surround new addition LeBron James. With Brandon Ingram (20), Lonzo Ball (20), Ivica Zubac (21), Wagner (21), Mykhailiuk (21) Kuzma (22), Hart (23), Los Angeles has a ton of young talent. Obviously, the four big pieces are Ingram, Ball, Kuzma and Hart, since we really don’t know what the other three guys will bring yet.
Ingram and Kuzma showed great development last year and became key pieces, while Ball also showed flashes of greatness. Hart finally got to show what he could do late in the year, and it’s clear from his performance in Vegas that he’s taken things up a notch.
While trade rumors have swirled for weeks surrounding everyone from Kawhi Leonard to Damian Lillard to John Wall, the Lakers should stand pat. There is absolutely no reason to rush into a deal. They should see how these young guys have developed and how they fit with James before making any moves. Give these kids half a season of playing together before making any decisions about trades.
Leonard will be a free agent next summer anyway and given the way he’s acted over the past nine months, he may not be the most stable player to invest assets in right now. With as much young talent as the Lakers have at their disposal, a trade for a star will always be an available option.
The Lakers’ chances of topping the Golden State Warriors next season are slim no matter who they add. The smart, long-term strategy is to continue building around James and aim to go all-in next summer.
None of the franchise’s young guys should be going anywhere any time soon.