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Luke Walton thought Josh Hart made a huge impact on the Lakers despite limited opportunities against Suns

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Josh Hart makes winning plays, and hopefully at some point, that’ll earn him more time on the court for the Lakers.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Because Josh Hart wasn’t a lottery pick and came out of Villanova at an older age than most prospective NBA players, he didn’t garner the same kind of hype that other players drafted around him did. He’s existed mostly under the radar as Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma made headlines, but that trend will stop pretty soon if he keeps playing the way he has.

Luke Walton was asked about Hart after the team’s win over the Phoenix Suns, and had some effusive praise for the second-year shooting guard/power forward/center/point guard.

“He was making winning plays all over the court tonight,” Walton said. “The plus-minus doesn’t always add up. There are times where you’re just on the court with other guys that are playing well and you finish with a good plus-minus, and there’s times you’re playing great but your other four teammates aren’t getting the job done and your minus is worse than it should be.”

Walton felt like this was one of the former situations, as Hart put up a game-high +32 in only 18 minutes.

“I pointed it out to the team because I thought it was directly related to how he played tonight. It was fighting over screens, tagging on the weak side, getting a steal when they were kind of hurting us early in the game with those rolls to the rim, making the extra pass,” Walton said. “Everything we always preach about playing, he was doing those things tonight.

“And he knocked down a couple shots too.”

On the season, only Tyson Chandler has a higher net rating (+9.2) than Hart (+7.8), and Hart’s done that for more than twice as many minutes (560 to Chandler’s 268). On one hand, you can point to Hart playing against opposing bench units, but on the other, it’s fair to wonder when Hart might get more opportunities against starting groups.

Yes, this is me again, asking for Hart to be inserted into the starting lineup.

Remember, Sunday was yet another poor start the Lakers bounced back from in a big way. The Dallas game went in the same direction. In the last two blowouts, the Lakers’ starters have held a -19.1 net rating per 100 possessions. Yes, it’s a small sample size of only two games, but against vastly inferior opponents, that group was awful.

In the end, the results will lead to Hart and the starters playing more together, because at some point Hart has to be rewarded for doing all the right things as Walton mentioned. If players aren’t given positive reinforcement beyond words (i.e., minutes), most will (understandably) stop putting forth the effort required to make the impact Hart has.

It’s great to hear what Walton thought about Hart’s great game. But it’s a perfect example of the problem here. All that praise for only 18 minutes of game time. Now, it was a blowout and Hart is still coming back from an ankle injury, but at some point (and hopefully soon), Hart needs more minutes, even if it comes from a younger player who garnered all those headlines Hart didn’t.