New Orleans Pelicans need Josh Hart to improve as spacer, shooter next season

Entering his third year of NBA action, Josh Hart could benefit by becoming a better scoring threat and a floor spacer for their second unit.

The New Orleans Pelicans made a flurry of changes in the offseason, but that doesn’t mean they’ve checked off all of their needs. Heading into the 2019-2020 NBA season, the Pels need to find more shooting and spacing for a team with a lot of finishing ability; it didn’t help that they’ve lost floor spacer Darius Miller for the upcoming season. However, they might have an answer on their own roster; Josh Hart.

Though he’s entering just his third year of NBA basketball, Hart is at something of a crossroads. Sure, he can be in this league a long time and always find his way as a role player, but as an older player, turning 25-years-old in March of 2020, it would be best for his career and wallet to find a way to be a key contributor off the bench, or even push for a starting role.

Hart was a smaller piece, but an overall nice throw-in to the Anthony Davis trade haul, one that brought over his Los Angles Lakers teammates, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. He was a proven piece of the Lakers bench the last two seasons, averaging 23.2 minutes his rookie year, then 25.6 minutes during his sophomore campaign.

While Hart will certainly have a role in this New Orleans Pelicans team, he’s not in the exact model of player Alvin Gentry has usually targeted on his rosters so far in this city. While Gentry employs more of a grit-and-grind offensive scheme, Hart is always going to be better utilized as a spacer, probably a better fit for a coaching scheme calling for more speed and space in this offense.

However, the two should find synergy on the defensive end, where Hart can frustrate an opposing offensive player due to his ferocity and focus.

Not to mention, Hart seems to be enjoying his time in New Orleans. He’s been making his rounds throughout the city since joining the squad in June. Fitting with a team can be just as important as fitting in a scene.

Josh Hart is a rotational guy now, but Pels need a bigger impact

Last season in Los Angeles, it was disappointing to see the guard/forward plateau in a lot of areas, in addition to seeing his performance dip in other areas. As a whole, he brought a positive impact on the Lakers when he was on the court.

The Lakers were +3.5 with Hart on the floor, compared to just +0.1 without the floor spacer. Hart, however, posted a measly 9.3 player efficiency rating (average is 15), but still had a 0.6 value above replacement.

He did show an improvement in his stock as a defender. Hart’s defensive box plus/minus was 1.1 while posting a 1.9 defensive win share. He does sometimes lose focus as an off-ball defender but provides a lot of attention when he’s covering a ball handler.

Importantly, the Pelicans need to see Hart improve as a three-point shooter. He shot 39.6% from deep during his rookie season but shot only 33.6% that range during his second run with the Lakers. Across the board, in fact, Hart became a less effective scorer last year; his free-throw, effective, and standard field goal shooting all dropped by sizable figures.

Next season, it would be great to see Hart continue to attempt a higher volume of three-point shots. He already made a reasonably solid jump in his first two seasons. During his rookie year, he attempted 52.5% shots from three (3.1 attempts per game), then attempted 59.1% shots from that range his sophomore season (4.1 attempts per game).

During his four-year, National Championship-winning stay at Villanova, Hart shot threes at a rate of 38.9% for his career; that’s about 5% better than a league-average three-point shooter. Hart was also a bit more timely with his threes in college, often called on to take the biggest shots in Jay Wright’s offense.

Teaming up with a perfect model for a bench spacer/scorer in JJ Redick should be a positive for Hart. While it may take away from the third-year man’s minutes, it should allow Hart to find a better way to round out his game. Redick has played 21,660 minutes of professional basketball to Hart’s 3,176 career minutes. Redick is also someone who played four years of college before coming to the NBA and who initially struggled to fit in with the league.

Plus it’s interesting to mention that Hart is following in Redick’s media footsteps, Hart launched his own podcast this offseason called The LightHarted Podcast. The veteran is already rubbing off the younger Hart, as, for those who don’t know, Redick hosts his own show, The JJ Redick Podcast

If they have any interesting in competing for playoff positioning during their 2019-2020 campaign, its certainly in the team’s best interest to better utilize Hart off the bench than the Lakers did a year ago. The third-year man has shown he’s a capable contributor, but maximizing his role will be up to Alvin Gentry and the rest of his coaching staff.