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Villanova’s Josh Hart Is A Winner

Josh Hart is the latest four-year player looking to make an immediate impact in the NBA, writes Benny Nadeau.

Ben Nadeau

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Josh Hart is a winner.

Hart is an All-American, a former Sixth Man of the Year turned finalist for the Naismith Player of the Year. He’s the reigning Big East Player of the Year and was recently given the Julius Erving Award as well, an honor bestowed on the NCAA’s best small forward. Josh Hart is a National Champion, a two-time Big East tournament MVP and as accomplished as four-year players come in collegiate basketball.

Now, Hart wants to prove he can win in the NBA too.

In 36 games in 2016-17, Hart averaged 18.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game for a Villanova Wildcats squad that made a serious run at back-to-back NCAA titles. Before their early tournament exit at the hands of Wisconsin, Hart led Villanova to a No. 1 seed and an overall record of 31-3.

Furthermore, Hart joined Kerry Kittles as the only two Villanova players to have at least 1,800 points, 700 rebounds, 250 assists and 150 steals in their careers.

Despite the impressive resume, Hart is currently slated as a second round selection almost across the board. And while the 22-year-old is getting looked over in favor of younger, more explosive athletes, Hart is certain that he can provide mature and versatile basketball skills that teams can utilize immediately.

“I’m not going to label myself as a shooting guard,” Hart said. “I’m not going to label myself as a small forward. I’m a basketball player who can play four different positions on the court — and defend four different positions on the court.”

After his junior year — and, of course, a national championship — Hart toyed with the idea of jumping to the NBA and attended the Combine last spring, but eventually returned for one final run. Even with the extra year of mileage on his legs, plenty of teams should line up to take a swing on the flexible, well-rounded Hart. With no shortage of confidence, Hart believes he’s ready to contribute in year one — ask him to jump, he’ll ask how high.

“Guys that have seen me play at Villanova know that I’m going to be the one that’s defending, you know, down on the floor for a loose ball at the end of the game to seal a victory. That’s what I do and I think that’s how I fit in.”

Buddy Hield, another four-year player drafted recently, actually had a comparable season as a senior for Oklahoma back in 2015-16. Although Hield scored about six more points per game, he tallied 5.7 rebounds and two assists per game on 50 percent shooting in a Consensus All-American campaign. Sound familiar? Even at the age of 22, Hield’s strong season and deep tournament run — which ended, ironically, at the hands of Hart and Villanova in the Final Four — led to him flying up draft boards, eventually selected by New Orleans with the No. 6 overall pick last June.

Unfortunately for Hart, the crowded freshman class this year has made the draft scene tougher to navigate than it was for Hield.

Undoubtedly then, Hart will look to follow in the footsteps of Malcolm Brogdon, an early second round selection in 2016 and current contender for Rookie of the Year honors. Brogdon graduated after playing four seasons in five years at Virginia and became a mainstay in head coach Jason Kidd’s rotation for the playoff-bound Milwaukee Bucks. His ability to knock down the open three-pointer and facilitate the offense on a Giannis Antetokounmpo-focused team awarded Brogdon big minutes almost immediately — most often at the expense of veterans like Jason Terry and Matthew Dellavedova.

While the Brogdon comparisons leap off the page on their own, Hart hasn’t shied away from connecting the dots for any franchises lagging behind the pack.

“I think saying a four-year guy is old is foolish, to be honest,” Hart said. “That’s the first time that somebody at 21 or 22 is old. I don’t think that’s smart. . . When it comes to playing this game, and knowing how to play the game and knowing how to impact the team offensively and defensively, that’s what four-year guys are.

“That’s why you see Malcolm Brogdon being successful, maybe being Rookie of the Year. You have Jimmy Butler, you can go down the list with so many four-year guys that keep it going and make an impact right away.”

Even with Hart’s successful collegiate stint, Brogdon’s status as a frontrunner for major award honors should do the former Wildcat plenty of favors before next month’s draft.

Hart is no stranger to the big moment either, always eager to hold the ball when the game is on the line. From dashing Seton Hall’s dreams of back-to-back Big East crowns to sinking DePaul last December, Hart doesn’t just swim in important situations, he thrives in them.

Of course, you won’t find Hart’s name atop any category as a league leader and his 18.7 points per game slotted him in at 66th-best in Division I in 2016-17 — but to him, personal statistics have never mattered all that much anyways.

“[I’m] someone who’s a winner,” he said. “Anybody that knows me, knows where I come from, definitely with Villanova, knows it’s about winning. It’s not about the individual, it’s not about an ego, I’m a team player. I don’t care about going out and scoring 25 [points] as long as we win — I’m going to do the little things.”

At the Combine, Hart noted that he had talked to the Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Pelicans, Miami Heat, Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, Detroit Pistons, Minnesota Timberwolves and Dallas Mavericks thus far in his pre-draft efforts. This week, he worked out for the Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets, but that number could continue to rise over the next month. For teams looking to add a strong perimeter defender with a penchant for the big moment, Hart fits the bill.

In a year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Hart knocking down shots in the postseason for a contender like the Utah Jazz or Houston Rockets, and, as of publishing, he’s been mocked to those franchises at No. 42 and 45, respectively. Even scarier would the prospect of San Antonio Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich getting ahold of Hart at No. 29 as a potential Patty Mills replacement like CBS Sports predicts.

No matter where he goes, however, Hart is ready to do whatever it takes to win.

“It’s not ‘OK, we’ll groom him for two, three years and see what happens,'” Hart said. “There’s no seeing what happens with a four-year guy, you know what you’re getting.”

And what you’re getting in Josh Hart is a bonafide winner.

Ben Nadeau is a Boston-based writer in his second year with Basketball Insiders. For five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Lessons From The 2018 NBA Draft

After a wild 2018 NBA Draft, here are four lessons and storylines worth watching over the next few years.

Ben Nadeau

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Now that the dust has settled on an unpredictable NBA Draft — what exactly have we learned? In amongst the unrelenting rumors, refused workouts and surprise reaches, there are a few key takeaways from Brooklyn. Of course, some of these are one-off instances, but others are definitely part of modern-day draft patterns. While draft night may sometimes seem like complete chaos or chance, each scenario on this rundown has been boiling over for weeks. Between passing on a talented prospect to letting an injured one slide, here are four important lessons from the 2018 NBA Draft.

Luka Dončić… Not The No. 1?

For months and months, it appeared as if Luka Dončić was poised to become the No. 1 overall pick in this draft. Even today, it’s hard to believe that somebody with Dončić’s age and resume wasn’t the top selection. In 2017-18 alone, the Slovenian took home EuroLeague MVP and Finals MVP plus ACB MVP, with championships in both leagues to boot — but here we are. Dončić averaged 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.1 steals over just 25 minutes per game, quickly transforming into the most well-rounded overseas prospect of all-time. But as impressive as Dončić was throughout the spring, the potential ceilings of both DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III eventually won out.

At 7-foot-1, Ayton’s 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game were undeniably worthy of a top selection too, pairing well alongside Devin Booker and Josh Jackson for the foreseeable future. While the jury is still out on Bagley III — his defense needs some major fine-tuning — he won’t take key touches away from De’Aaron Fox either. More or less, nobody wants to be the organization to miss on such a franchise-altering pick. The Suns, Kings and even the Hawks may eventually regret passing on Dončić, but when general managers’ entire careers can depend on making the right choice at the right time, it’s not difficult to understand why the top of the draft unfolded as it did.

Playing Hard To Get Doesn’t Always Work Out…

As draft boards began to take shape, there was one particularly interesting situation sitting at No. 4 overall. Jaren Jackson Jr., solidly leading the second tier of prospects, was looking like a lock at the Memphis Grizzlies’ pick — but with one major caveat: Jackson Jr. reportedly didn’t work out or give his medical information to the franchise. After he was drafted, Jackson Jr. called those rumors “a tad out of context” — but, obviously, those are some massive red flags. Either way, Memphis went with their gut and selected the talented forward anyway.

But beyond all that, Memphis absolutely made the right move by sticking to their guns. Putting a modern three-point shooting, defensive-minded athlete next to Marc Gasol should prove to be an absolute nightmare for years to come. Naturally, Jackson Jr. will get plenty of easy looks from the stellar Mike Conley Jr. too — so if the draftee was once apprehensive, surely that will pass soon. Still, it reflects on a larger NBA pattern, wherein which prospective athletes sensibly look to mold their own path out of college. With players trying to control their draft narratives more than ever, it’s reassuring to see that some franchises will take their target first and then figure out the rest.

We may never know Jackson Jr.’s full thought process behind not working out for the Grizzlies, but there’s a great chance that the former Spartan was made for Memphis’ tough brand of basketball — and we should all be glad we’ll get to see it.

…But Injuries Will Lead To A Slide

Michael Porter Jr. — what a year for him, huh?

After missing out on much of his only collegiate season due to back surgery, Porter Jr. promised that he was feeling better than ever. But over the last month, scouts and front offices were treated to canceled workouts and hazy uncertainty. And, at the end of the day, it probably scared a handful of franchises away from the talented scorer. Just this week, the Kings heavily considered Porter Jr. at No. 2 overall — but even with that sudden unlikelihood passing by, few thought he’d drop out of the top ten altogether. Outside of the guaranteed money that Porter Jr. will miss out on, redshirting his rookie year may also be on the table as well.

The inherent upside with Porter Jr. is obvious, but — similarly to the Dončić issue — it’s tough to ask franchise officials to stake their livelihood on the prospect’s health. If Porter Jr.’s lingering issues stay with him and he never reaches his mountain of potential, that’s a tough pill to swallow. The 19-year-old would fall all the way down to No. 14, where the Denver Nuggets gladly scooped him up. During the combine in May, Porter Jr. called himself the best player in the draft — but it’s now up to him to prove them all wrong.

The Mysterious Men Nearly Miss Out

Let’s rewind to early April. Villanova had been just crowned NCAA champions for the second time in three years, the NBA playoffs were soundly on the horizon and mock drafts had begun to consistently pour out. Early on, there were two athletic big men that looked like shoo-ins as first-rounders: Robert Williams and Mitchell Robinson. Despite their undercooked skill-sets, both players pulled out of the combine and then waited for the hype to build — except, well, it didn’t. Williams, who was typically projected in the early teens, slipped out of the lottery entirely, only to be rescued by the Boston Celtics at No. 27. Williams is a booming, powerful prospect, but he could’ve really benefited from competing against the other top prospects in May.

Although he’s now landed in an ideal situation with Brad Stevens, Al Horford and a process-driven Celtics squad, Williams likely cost himself a whole load of money over the last 30-plus days as well.

In Robinson’s case, many believed his floor was the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 — rumors swirling that the 7-foot-1 center even received a promise from the illustrious franchise. Instead, Robinson dropped to the New York Knicks at No. 36 overall. Robinson had originally committed to Western Kentucky in July of 2017 before dropping out to prepare for the draft. After skipping the combine last month, Robinson indeed exhibited the potential to be both a steady shot-blocker and three-point maker during his individual evaluations. But with little to go off of but high school highlight reels and small session workout tapes, he understandably fell.

Sometimes the hype is impossible to ignore, but not participating in the combine and staying as mysterious as possible hurt these ultra-talented prospects.

While the 2018 NBA Draft wasn’t quite the trade-heavy, drama-laden extravaganza much of the world expected, there are plenty of narratives to reflect upon. At the end of the day, the ink is barely dry on this year’s festivities and it’ll be some time before there’s any indication of these successes or failures. Still, there are lessons to be learned from every draft, workout or injury process and these are four conversations worth considering as the NBA quickly rolls into the summer league season.

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VIDEO: 2018 NBA Draft Winners

Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may have done better than expected.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may have done better than expected.

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Insiders Video

VIDEO: 2018 NBA Draft Losers

Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may not have done as well as expected.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may not have done as well as expected.

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