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Breaking down why Josh Hart plays so much

Despite offensive woes, Josh Hart emerges as key player in Knicks’ top lineups

Toronto Raptors v New York Knicks Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

7.4 points per game while shooting just 44% from the field and 32.5% from three. Those are Josh Hart’s very subpar and unimpressive offensive numbers, yet he finds himself averaging 28.1 minutes per game this season. Now, that would mark the lowest of his career since the 2019-2020 season, but 28 minutes a night is still a lot for someone who puts up the kind of offensive numbers that Hart does, especially considering the fact that he’s not an elite perimeter defender or a supreme playmaker.

In fact, nowadays, Knicks fans, including myself, are unfortunately more likely to point out his flaws, weaknesses and holes. The lack of a consistent three-point shot, his tendency to turn down wide open shots, his inability to consistently get his own shot. We’ve heard it all at this point. But Hart, despite putting up some of the worst counting stats and percentages in his career this season, has managed to earn the playing time he’s been given because of one simple reason. The team is just flat out better when he’s on the court.

Of the Knicks’ 22 lineups that have played 25 or minutes together this season, the top six all include Hart. The best of which, is a lineup which is the starting lineup but with Hart replacing Donte DiVicenzo. So that includes Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson, Isaiah Hartenstein, OG Anunoby, and Hart. That specific lineup has played 41 minutes together and have boasted an absurd offensive rating of 131.5 while having an insane defensive rating of 71.3, which sums up to a net rating of 60.2. That lineup is also holding opponents to an effective field goal of 35.8%, which is absurdly low, and has an opponents’ turnover rate of 14.9%.

Now, sure, 41 minutes is far from a huge sample size and mixed within those minutes are minutes from games against the Wizards and Trail Blazers, which are sure to inflate your numbers. but even then, that’s still a very impressive mark. And it doesn’t end there. The third best performing lineup that has played 25 or minutes together for the Knicks this season is one that includes Randle, Hartenstein, and Hart along with Quentin Grimes and Immanuel Quickley. That five-man combo played only for 28 minutes but still had a net rating of 37.

The fourth best lineup? It’s Randle, Hart, Brunson, Quickley, and Mitchell Robinson. They played 63 minutes together and put up a net rating of 27.7. The fifth best lineup, which consisted of Randle, Hartenstein, Hart, Brunson, and Quickley, played 96 minutes together, and had a net rating of 25.6. And then there’s the sixth best lineup that the Knicks have had this season, and that lineup, which has played 28 minutes together, has a net rating of 22.9.

And maybe the most impressive and surprising thing about those lineups, is the fact that outside of the last one, the offensive ratings of all those lineups are 125.4 or higher, which means that despite Hart’s very clear offensive limitations, the team still functions very well with him on the floor offensively. And they’ve done all this while still have a defensive rating of 102.9 or lower in all of them, with the top two having a defensive rating under 75.

Being included in one or two of the top five to ten lineups on any given team doesn’t always mean much. It could mean that you’re sharing the floor with really talented players or that there’s just a small sample size and the numbers are inflated because of a few good games. But Hart’s inclusion in the top six best lineups for the Knicks this year is no coincidence. Regardless of how bad the three-point shooting has been, and how clunky his offense can look for large portions of the game, it’s clear that Hart is a connector, who’s ability to make the right plays, do the little things that nobody wants to do, and come up with clutch hustle plays goes beyond whatever the basic counting stats say.

Sure, him improving his shot and offensive efficiency would go along ways. But Hart is and has always been a winning basketball player who just seems to do the right things and be at the right place at the right time. And you can make a very strong argument that his net rating, and plus minus (which is fifth on the team after Anunoby, Hartenstein, Brunson, and Randle), are far more important statistics than his PPG and three-point percentage. So for the time being, don’t expect anything to change. Tom Thibodeau may be guilty of playing favorites and being stubborn, but in the case with Hart, it’s not just some coach being blindly fanboying over a player. Hart, even with all of his flaws, helps the Knicks win and that’s the most important thing.