How one second-year player could help elevate the Lakers to elite status.
One might think it’s outrageous to say that Josh Hart, a rookie who only averaged 7.9 points per game last season, is the key for the Los Angeles Lakers to make a push to the NBA Finals. After all, the Lakers just acquired four-time MVP LeBron James. Not only did they sign James, but they also have players such as Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma.
There are two main reasons why Hart’s role is so important to the team this year. The first is because after a superb summer league performance, it looks as though he could be the next breakout star in the NBA. Secondly, his performance on the court is going to determine the success and play style of his teammates.
The Lakers were not a great team by any means last season. They finished in the bottom 10 in the standings and had their fair share of struggles. Perhaps their most apparent struggle was their three-point shooting, especially from their backcourt. Despite taking the 15th most three-point shots in the league, they shot an abysmal 34.5%, good for second worst in the entire league.
Take a look at the other players, besides Hart, who are expected to be a part of the backcourt rotation this upcoming season.
|Name||‘17-‘18 PPG||‘17-‘18 3P%||Career 3P%|
Since Caldwell-Pope was the only good shooter last season — and it remains to be seen how consistently he will shoot the ball — Hart fills an immediate need for scoring and shooting in the backcourt. The 23-year-old Villanova alumnus shot 39.6% from beyond the arc and showed his scoring prowess in the summer league, averaging 22.5 PPG.
Though the summer league isn’t always the best indicator of how a player will perform in the NBA against more experienced, skilled players, it’s safe to say that Hart’s play will directly influence the success of his teammates. If Hart is able to keep up his success with spacing the floor, he will take away some of the focus from the frontcourt players, which will open up more opportunities for them.
It doesn’t take a prophet to know that LeBron James is going to be the first offensive option for the Lakers. In order to maximize James’ talent, it is best to surround him with shooters, as evidenced by how well he played with Kyle Korver last season.
|James’ stats with Korver:||OFFRTG||DEFRTG||NETRTG|
With Hart being the best three-point shooter on the team, he is going to be the key for freeing up space for James. The better offensive rating makes a lot of sense. With an additional legitimate shooting threat on the floor, James has more room to either drive to the hoop or kick it out to the three-point line, which is what he thrives at more than anything. The significantly improved defensive rating is interesting because Korver has never been known as a good defender. Therefore, the most logical explanation is that Korver redirects some of the defensive focus from James, so James exerts less energy on the offensive end, which ultimately allows him to play with more intensity on the defensive end.
In order for Hart to be able to take the next step, he is going to have to get better at scoring in a variety of ways, rather than just spot up shooting. Out of Hart’s possessions, 34.7% were spot ups, which ranks 29th out of the 143 players who had at least 150 spot up possessions. Even if he doesn’t improve his scoring, Hart should be getting even more chances to shine in spot up opportunities this season with two of the best passers in the NBA, James and Rajon Rondo, being added in the offseason.
Will Hart be an All-Star this season? Probably not, but that doesn’t take away from his potential impact as a scorer and spacer for his fellow teammates. Hart is in a crowded backcourt rotation and will have to prove himself as a bona fide starter in the NBA.
The summer league was promising for Hart, so how it transfers to the big leagues will be something to watch out for this coming season.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com
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