Josh Hart is a rarity in the NBA, a rookie who shunned the one-and-done route to play four years of major college basketball, allowing his body and game to grow and mature at a more gradual pace.
And it shows.
“Absolutely,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said, when asked if he could tell when a player spent four years in college. “They’re fundamentally more sound. They understand the little things about the game that you have to spend a lot of time teaching one-and-done guys.”
Hart, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound guard acquired in a draft-day trade with Utah, helped Villanova win the NCAA championship in 2015-2016 and averaged 18.9 points and 6.4 rebounds as a senior in 2016-2017.
After being slowed by an Achilles injury and a two-game demotion to the G-League in November, Hart’s playing time has surged this month.
The 22-year-old started four of six games before Wednesday, averaging 28 minutes during the stretch. He reached double figures in points and rebounds twice and impressed the Lakers with his defense and hustle.
“He continues to slowly earn more playing time and more trust,” Walton said. “He’s earned his role right now, and he seems to not be afraid of anything. I think that’s because he’s played in huge games and won a national championship in front of 80,000 fans.”
Actually, it was a crowd of 74,340 in Houston’s NRG Stadium that witnessed Villanova’s 77-74 win over North Carolina in the 2016 title game, which ended with Kris Jenkins’ 22-foot buzzer beater. But Walton’s point is taken.
“I haven’t played in an NBA arena yet that’s as big, with as many seats, as that Final Four,” Hart said. “It definitely helped having that big-game experience.”
So did the challenge of playing multiple positions in college.
“I’m ready to defend guys on the perimeter, to battle 7-foot bigs in the post,” Hart said. “Those kinds of things are hard if you’re 19 years old, trying to battle a 32-year-old in the post. But being in college for four years and going through a great strength and conditioning program really got me ready physically.”
Walton used the bizarre ending to Phoenix’s 99-97 win over Memphis on Tuesday night, when the Suns took advantage of a quirky NBA rule to score the game-winning basket, as a teaching tool.
With 0.6 seconds left, Dragen Bender threw a pass to the rim from the opposite sideline. Tyson Chandler jumped over the Grizzlies’ Brandan Wright and slammed the ball in with 0.4 seconds left.
Because goaltending can’t be called on an inbounds pass, it did not matter that Chandler appeared to be above the cylinder when he caught the ball.
“In all honesty, I didn’t know that was a rule,” Walton said. “We talked about it as a team today in our film room. This is a copycat league, and I’m sure a lot of coaches are putting that in their late-game playbook. We discussed how to defend that.”