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Slowly returning to the mean, with some hesitation: An updated look at Josh Hart of the Knicks

After an off-key start to the season, Josh Hart’s offense is slowly improving. Now if only he would take the open shot. . . .

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Josh Hart fooled us a little bit.

It was no malicious deception, but the guy we came to love last season was an anomaly. The numbers tried to tell us so.

For example, over his career, Josh has been a 35% three-point shooter. Through 51 games in Portland, before the trade that brought him to the New York Knicks last February, he had made less than a third of his long range attempts. Not great . . . although some of those shots were downright thrilling, like the buzzer beater to defeat the Miami Heat on November 7, 2022.

Only after reuniting with college buddy Jalen Brunson did Hart’s statistics jump up. Boy, did they.

In the next 25 regular season games, Josh logged a personal-best eFG of 67% (career avg: 55%) and a True Shooting percentage of 70% (career avg: 58%). He attempted 2.1 triples per contest and made just over half. Factor in his rabid defense and, lawdy, where had this Romeo been all our lives? He was clearly the missing piece needed by the Knicks to mount a deep postseason run.

Against Cleveland in the first round of the Playoffs, Josh was El Scorcho. He averaged 56% FG, 46% 3P, and 78% FT, and someone at my residence began pricing Hart jerseys.

Hart played through ankle soreness, though, which might have colored his shooting in the next series against the Heat. Although Josh logged two double-doubles against Jimmy Butler et al, he would finish with a line of 42%, 24%, and 54%.

Considering the difference between the two Playoff series, it’s safe to say that somewhere in between lies the real Josh Hart (and a foolhardy DraftKings bet I won’t mention here).

Over the first nine games of the current campaign, things got gruesome again. Josh made a quarter of his three-pointers and shot 37% from the field. His True Shooting percentage is the worst it’s ever been: 49%. Voices that once clamored for him to replace the starters Quentin Grimes or RJ Barrett (or why not both?) suddenly got laryngitis.

In the November 13th loss to the Boston Celtics, Josh played well and shot 50% across the board. It seemed he might have turned a corner. Then again . . .

Since the Celtics game, Hart has made about half his field goals (bueno), but his three-point percentage is stuck at 30% (no muy bueno). Most recently, against the Minnesota Timberwolves, he managed four points, two rebounds, two steals, and one assist. Over 24 minutes, he took only six shots and missed his two three-point attempts. The team could have used a little more, especially as Minny raised their sails and raced off on the second-half sea.

Hart has admitted to having tired legs due to playing too much basketball over the summer, when he had joined Jalen Brunson on the FIBA World Cup team. Perhaps these early offensive doldrums are due to fatigue and not a sudden loss of ability, like that time Lex slipped kryptonite into Supe’s underoos.

No, Josh won’t make half his triples this season. Yes, I’d settle, gladly, for 35% overall. He signed a 4-year, $80.92 million contract extension in August, after all. He will earn approximately $13 Million this year, $18M next year, and his salary increases from there. At these prices, scoring more than seven points per game would be ideal, no? Maybe i’m just a pinchpenny.

Another quibble about Hart persists, too, and it can be a head-scratcher when you watch him play. Skim most game thread comments this season and you will find a common refrain: Hart passes up too many uncontested shots. Like, wide open. Perhaps he’s generous to a fault (he does have very kind eyes). Or—and I suspect it’s this—the poor start made him gun-shy, and he still needs to recover his confidence.

Either way, he must keep improving. A successful nine-man rotation requires every player to contribute to their peak ability.

And to take his open shots.

This Friday, with a belly full of turkey leftovers, Josh will face the Heat yet again. It’s a team against which he has experienced both heart-bursting highs and bummer lows. Maybe this time, rather than be a hero or a goat, he’ll land somewhere in between: a slightly-above average, but nonetheless lovable, Josh Hart.

Happy Thansksgiving, Knickerbockers!