Josh Hart got his first start of the preseason for the Los Angeles Lakers in the team’s Tuesday night loss to the Denver Nuggets, and while his 14 points were nearly a team-high, he didn’t initially seem to think anything about the performance was too special while speaking with reporters after the game.
“Whenever I start I’m usually a little more aggressive on the offensive end,” Hart admitted before allowing that “it was good to get out there and get the ball moving.”
His coach Luke Walton told a different story when pushed for his thoughts on Hart’s performance after he inserted the sophomore guard into the lineup in place of veteran Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
“Josh is great at doing the dirty things. Fighting over screens, grabbing rebounds,” Walton said. “He definitely brought a toughness and an edge to the start of the game.”
Hart’s teammates were similarly effusive in their praise.
“He’s a great young guy. I didn’t know he was that strong. He plays a lot stronger than what he looks like,” said Hart’s backcourt mate Rajon Rondo.
“He was really good. I think when he had the opportunity, he really went out there and showed what he could do defending the basketball and shooting the basketball,” added Hart and Rondo’s fellow starter Brandon Ingram.
So why wasn’t Hart initially impressed with himself? Well, for one, it seems he just hadn’t been asked the right question yet, because when he was queried about a possession in which he served as the screen setter in a pick and roll with Rajon Rondo, Hart lit up, cracking a joke about JaVale McGee needing to watch out because Hart was coming for his playing time at center.
Then Hart got serious.
“I’m a roller now,” Hart said. “I’ve practiced playing the four in practice in small ball lineups. Setting picks, rolling, popping, that’s something I worked on this offseason.”
Pick-and-roll with Josh Hart as the roll man?!— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) October 3, 2018
I’m here for all the weirdness. pic.twitter.com/eq4CUImniu
Hart only got one chance to show those skills against the Nuggets, but in an NBA where positions are increasingly meaningless, there might be times he’s called on to perform tasks typically done by power forwards in small-ball lineups.
And while Hart might only stand 6’5 and thus be far from the typical size for a power forward, he showed a real knack for using his impressive strength to not get bullied on post-ups when switching onto larger players last season, as well as demonstrating skill as a strong rebounder. Perhaps the Lakers, in their drive to be as versatile and positionless as possible, might want to try him there a bit.
That strategy might seem unorthodox, or just straight insane, but is it really any weirder than trotting out Kyle Kuzma as a center? After all, if the Lakers are just straight up punting positional labels, why not do so with a player so stout and strong defensively that he led to both the best and most horrifying photoshop our graphics wizard Grant Goldberg has ever come up with:
You can do this kind of thing because of how well Hart finishes at the rim. And because he’s built like a fire hydrant. https://t.co/ikqLOq8PKo— Silver Screen & Roll (@LakersSBN) October 3, 2018
Maybe things won’t work well enough defensively for the Lakers to use Hart at power forward consistently, but his ability to set brick-wall screens and work as a roller at least gives the Lakers some more diversity for their guard-guard pick and rolls. And if other team’s go small against L.A., Hart being able to moonlight against a slightly larger, wing-sized player at the four might be able to give Luke Walton even more options to get shooting on the floor to make the Lakers as dynamic as possible offensively.
No matter what happens, Hart is excited about the possibilities that his new skillset can create.
“Right now basketball is becoming positionless,” Hart said. “We have a team full of versatile guys, so that makes things a lot easier.”