Las Vegas — Given how often Josh Hart seems to be on Instagram or Twitter roasting his Los Angeles Lakers teammates, it’s somewhat surprising to learn that social media isn’t where he learned he’d be playing with LeBron James next season.
Instead, Hart was laying down in his hotel room in Sacramento, where the Lakers were playing in the California Classic, when his brother Facetimed him to let him know that James was joining him in a Lakers uniform this fall.
All of a sudden, Hart was no longer “just chilling.” He was starting to wrap his mind around the idea that he’d be playing with “the best player in the world” next season.
“I was just kind of more shocked, you know?” Hart told Silver Screen and Roll. “I thought he would, a lot of people thought he would, but it was just kind of like ‘whoa.’
“It takes a couple seconds for you to try and process it.”
Once Hart was finished processing the news, he went to work at showing why it’s easy to see him as the perfect complementary weapon to play alongside LeBron.
Hart’s newfound skill at creating his own shot that’s made him one of the top scorers in Las Vegas Summer League will allow him to seamlessly attack closeouts when James hits him with kickout passes, or run pick and rolls against an already scrambled defense as a secondary attacker, something Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said that James has already noticed.
“[LeBron has] been watching summer league games, and he brought up Josh Hart,” Pelinka said during an appearance on Spectrum Sportsnet, and he later mentioned during his press conference how impressed he himself has been at the expanded toolbox Hart has shown he can bring to the team next season.
“I think if you look at what Josh Hart is doing in summer league ... Josh made a very unique commitment after the season to get right into the weight room. He worked on his explosiveness, he worked on his strength and now he’s one of the top-three scorers in summer league,” Pelinka said.
But while Hart has now shown he can create a bit more scoring on his own, he also won’t need to do as much of that alongside James, and the NBA skills he’s already demonstrated he has make him one of the best complements to James on the Lakers’ roster.
Not only did Hart shoot a team-high 39.6 percent from 3-point range last season — which already appears to make him one of the few floor-spacers James will have next season — he also ranked in the 84th percentile on Spot Ups, scoring 1.15 points per play, according to Synergy, a number that includes both catch-and-shoots and possessions in which Hart attacked closeouts.
Hart also averaged 1.24 PPP in catch and shoot situations, which put him in the 88th percentile in the league, and more than qualifies him to knock down the gobs of open shots playing alongside LeBron can create for him.
Hart fared less well in off-the-dribble jumpers when attacking closeouts on spot ups (0.67 PPP, which left him n the 21st percentile), but Hart only had 15 such possessions of that type last season and has showed massive improvement at those exact type of shots during summer league.
But the Lakers don’t want Hart — or any of the rest of their team — to only serve as remora fish hitching a ride upon James’ greatness, providing small benefits in exchange for having him on their side. The front office has tried to assemble a roster of versatile playmakers to ease the LeBron’s playmaking burden a bit, and Hart is equally suited to both supplement James’ success with his shooting while also making things easier on The King.
“I’m someone who can space the floor and give him driving lanes, and someone who can get rebounds and push the ball and not leave too much weight on his shoulders in the regular season,” Hart told Silver Screen and Roll.
He’s also right on both counts. Hart was a strong rebounder last season for a guard, grabbing 3.5 per game. Hart also made the most of those caroms, averaging 1.23 PPP as the ball-handler on fast breaks, which ranks in the 96th percentile in the league, according to Synergy.
Between Hart and Ball, the Lakers boast at least two guards that can grab a board and go, allowing James to get easy buckets in transition instead of having to create everything himself as often as he did the last few seasons, making things a bit easier for him as he ages.
Obviously Hart — and the Lakers — know that you don’t sign James to take the ball out of his hands, and head coach Luke Walton confirmed that they will still be giving James the ball “a lot,” but Hart’s skills are why when he says he can “definitely” fit well alongside James, he’s not wrong.
As a three-and-D player who can take tough assignments defensively, push pace in transition, space the floor for James and others while also capably attacking a scattered defense with his drives, Hart is arguably the best fit with James among anyone on the current roster. It’s also probably why he sounds so excited for the chance to play alongside him, even if it’s still only just starting to feel real.
“Now that it actually came out that he had agreed to a deal with him, you’re just kind of like ‘wow,’” Hart said.