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Player Preview: Josh Hart is clearly the heart of this team

Underrated and undervalued no more, how will Hart respond in his first full season?

2023 NBA Playoffs - New York Knicks v Miami Heat Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Josh Hart is a unique player that I admittedly didn’t fully understand or appreciate until he came over last season. The former Villanova Wildcat is a very solid player but often gets left out of basketball conversations as he lacks star power, and flashiness and his most played videos online are likely those of him failing to high five teammates.

And because of that it was very easy to overlook his strengths, skillset, and impact and focus on his weaknesses and shortcomings. That was likely the case for most Knicks fans who thought that the Hart trade was good but not needle-moving because he wasn’t Donovan Mitchell, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, James Harden, Damian Lillard, or any of the other stars that the media connected with the team. Fans did see Hart as a good rebounding wing defender who can score in transition but many didn’t fully understand how just much and how often he impacts the game in a positive way.

But that all changed within days of Hart putting on a Knicks jersey for the first time. After just a couple of games, the veteran guard made a big impact and did so in such a selfless and simple way. It wasn’t like Hart came to the Knicks and scored 35 points, or registered triple doubles, or hit a game winner. But what he did do, were all the little things that your middle school basketball coach tells you to do. Things that not all NBA players can or are willing to do these days. Those things include, but are not limited to, making the extra pass, cutting even if it’s not to get yourself open, diving for every loose ball, boxing out as a guard, and being very vocal on defense. The list goes on.

Again, none of these things come across as otherworldly, or even difficult really. A lot of these are in fact things any player in the league can do. But the problem is, they don’t. And what sets Hart apart from a lot guys in the league, stars and nonstars, is the fact that he not only is willing to do these things, but he seems to enjoy it and relishes being the guy to do them.

His non-stop motor, impressive positional rebounding skills, ability to make the right play and right read unselfishly so often, and the energy and heart that Knicks fans have longed to see on a nightly basis makes him oddly unique in today’s league, which is partly why he was rewarded with a four-year $81 million extension this offseason.

That isn’t to say that Hart doesn’t have weaknesses. As we all saw against the Miami Heat in the playoffs, Hart has clear holes in his game that can be taken advantage of by great teams and coaches. The backup shooting guard is a career 35% three-point shooter, which hurt him and the Knicks really badly in the playoffs. He also lacks the kind of elite athleticism scouts want to see, and doesn’t have the type of handles or creativity to take advantage of mismatches by himself on a consistent basis, which lead to him having some costly turnovers in the playoffs, especially in transition.

Clearly Hart isn’t a perfect player. He’s far from it, and he’ll likely be the first one to tell you that, which is likely why he’s alluded to just doing whatever is needed on multiple occasions. But what he is, is vital to this team’s success. Hart provides the Knicks with a combination of skills that most guys on the team don’t have, making him the perfect glue guy. The type of player that quite frankly, most great teams have. His tenacity and intangibles allow guys like Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, and RJ Barrett to focus more on what they do best.

It’s very easy to sit here and wish that Hart could come off the bench as a knockdown shooter like Evan Fournier or had the ability break down defenses like Immanuel Quickley. But truth be told, Hart just needs to be himself. Unlike some skills like shooting, thankfully none of Hart’s skills are prone to regression, so the hope is that he can stay relatively healthy (has played in more than 70 games in a season just twice in his career), and just do what he did when he came over at the trade deadline. If he can do that, then the rest of the guys should be able to overcome his weaknesses (i.e. shooting), and Hart can be the havoc-causing, ball of energy that fans love and opponents hate playing against.

All in all, expect Hart to play big minutes this season. Tom Thibodeau is clearly a big fans of his and, with Obi Toppin gone, there’s a lane for Hart to get some minutes as a backup power forward. Hart, like much of his career, likely won’t put up any eye-popping stats, but I assure you, he will make a mark on this team, and the season once again.