A lead member of Villanova’s most winningest (yes, that is a word) class, Josh Hart will not be entering the 2017 NBA Draft as the burgeoning, young star. Instead, the 6’6 Maryland native brings victory-laden experience and a resounding, well-tested grit.
In this heavily hyped draft class, Hart’s comparatively quiet resolve to transition into the professional arena reflects his performance on the court: head down, preferring to speak volumes through his buckets.
Any discussion on Hart’s “it factor” begins and ends with his sheer versatile playing style. Quick to be dubbed a “complete” player from pundits and coaches, Hart seems to hallmark his performance by seamlessly transitioning among positions. This malleable positioning has provided both offensive efficiency and defensive iron.
His inherent ease to play whatever role necessary becomes most apparent when facing tense games against high-caliber teams. When scoreboard leads chip away, other players may readily succumb their performances to an “off night.” Alternatively, Hart seems to posses an internal gauge that alters his play to powerfully respond to pressure situations.
A ready example? Villanova’s hard-fought victory over Notre Dame in December. While Notre Dame claimed the lead in halftime, Hart lead the Wildcats in an impressively dominant manner upon the second half. Dropping a career-high of 37 points, Hart also went an icy cool 14-14 at the free-throw line.
Hart’s inner drive to dominate equally reveals itself within losses. During Villanova’s three total season losses, Hart, unwilling to let atypical shooting define his impact, instead posted up the highest rebound numbers for the Wildcats for each loss. His ability to create momentum in stalemate games is an underemphasized but crucial component of Hart’s playing ability.
Four Years of #Attitude
A favorite phrase of coach Jay Wright, Hart perfectly embodies the humble, yet relentless spirit of Villanova basketball. Any quick glance at statistics would easily reveal Hart’s steady rise in efficiency over four years. However, more interesting to note, Hart wasn’t even being fully cultivated as the “go-to” playmaker for ‘Nova his first two years.
As far as Hart’s sophomore year, Dylan Ennis appeared as the starting guard for the Wildcats. Yet, coming off the bench, Hart still managed to be carve himself as one of Villanova’s best shooters—second only to now Detroit Piston Darrun Hilliard.
After Ennis’ transfer to Oregon, Hart rose to a more prominent role his junior year. With the spotlight now pointedly at him, Hart responded like a Rihanna song: work, work, work, work. Culminating his senior year averaging 18.7 points, 51 percent for field goals, and 40 percent on three-pointers, Hart’s assets ultimately go beyond simple shooting acumen. His understanding of team-centric playmaking, paired with his knack for accuracy, lends himself to be a force on the court.
Four Years of College Ball
As Hart himself admits in an interview with the Washington Post, while there may not be a disparity in skill among the fellow members of this draft class, there is a difference in age. Acknowledging his “older” status as a 22 year-old, compared to other NBA prospects within their late teens, Hart noted to Sports Illustrated that “[t]he cliche of a four-year player is that the ceiling isn’t as high.”
Yes, Hart is not famed for an explosive introductory season. Yes, scouts will wary over if the additional three years of college-level play will have stunted Hart’s player transition. Aware of these criticisms, Hart has made concentrated efforts to boost his presence both near the post and the perimeter to level-up his court dexterity. Whether enough to convince NBA scouts that he can provide off-the-bench value remains to be seen.
Despite the litany of Hart’s merits (a member of the 2016 National Championship squad, the 2017 Big East Player of the Year, to name a few), Hart remains missing from the discussion of early round draft picks. In an ode to ambiguity, Hart’s predicted selection point ranges anywhere between 18-40.
While the default viewpoint asserts a second round draft selection, Hart could very well nab the lucrative contract assurances as a late first round pick. Eager to display his resolve, Hart has spent the offseason working out for nearly 15 teams, with notable sessions including the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers, Indiana Pacers, and San Antonio Spurs.
For NBA teams looking to professionally polish a fundamentally sound player with a still-blazing spark, Hart has all the makings of a currently undervalued steal. Offensively, defensively—in whatever capacity there is a need on the court, there is Josh Hart, hustling to fulfill it.