Pelicans

Hart’s Tenacity Keeps Pelicans Ticking

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New Orleans Pelicans sixth man Josh Hart continues to show the Pelicans fanbase the importance he plays in their playoff bid. Moving forward, the unsung hero will need to feature more if New Orleans is going to push forward, following their stellar wins against Boston and Detroit.

Along with their quality second half against Detroit, New Orleans’ franchise-record comeback victory was much needed. An inconsistent season consisting of porous defense and worrisome offense has marred a year dubbed a breakout year for the Pelicans. Throughout all the turmoil and uncertainty, however, Josh Hart’s game has stuck out.

New Orleans’ team bears two budding superstars in Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. Unfortunately, the rest of the roster has generated many issues. Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe‘s starting backcourt has been up and down. The latter is struggling mightily for consistent playing time.

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Offensive Contributions

While Bledsoe continues to struggle, Josh Hart has maintained his outstanding play. This season, Hart is averaging a modest nine points to go with a whopping seven rebounds. The stats are not as eye-popping as you would think, but if you turn on a Pelicans game on any given night, Hart’s tenacious attitude is what keeps the Pelicans ticking.

Recently, his production has increased. Since their despicable loss to Detroit, Hart is averaging 14 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Along with the increased offensive output, Hart has maintained his high defensive motor.

Defensive Acumen

The contagious energy he plays with seems to have paid off in his minutes with the starters. Sunday’s win at Boston was a prime example. Primarily, Hart guarded Jaylen Brown, restricting the Celtics guard to a 7-23 shooting night. His exemplar defense was highlighted by Pelicans head coach Stan Van Gundy assigning Hart to defend Jayson Tatum late in the game. Even though Tatum came up with clutch baskets, Hart’s defense was as good as any Pelicans player has all season.

Beyond the Box Score

Analytically, Hart’s effect is personified. Of all the five-man lineups (that’s played 25+ minutes) used by Coach Van Gundy this season, Hart features in four of the five that have a positive net rating. As well, in the four-man lineups (that’s played 100+ minutes), Hart is in the top-three Pelican units.

Similarly, Hart ranks fourth in real plus-minus on the Pelicans roster and league-wide above players like Sabonis and Booker. As such, New Orleans is a significantly better ball-club with Hart on the floor. The production, as well as his intangibles, make him the perfect 3-and-D player. In relation, his low usage and spacing make him an ideal starting guard alongside Williamson, Ingram and Ball. 

The Road Ahead

Moving forward, Hart should start for New Orleans.

As mentioned earlier, Hart’s defensive energy, rebounding and low usage mentality are a necessity with the starting five. Although Bledsoe is still shooting a blistering 39.5% from three, that number is trending in the wrong direction since we last discussed the Pelicans.

Shifting Hart to the starting lineup and bringing Bledsoe off the bench also provides more on-ball opportunities for Bledsoe. Eric’s current mark of 3.6 assists per game is a career low as a full-time starter. Handling the second-unit offense instead of Kira Lewis Jr. will drastically improve the bench production. Most importantly, shifting a ball-dominant guard to the bench for Hart will see a shift in possessions for Ingram and Zion. 

Since the start of February, Hart’s role has increased, resulting in a decrease in Bledsoe minutes. During this time, Zion has featured primarily with non-dominant guards (J.J. Redick, Hart, Lewis Jr).

His productivity has increased exponentially.

Since February 1, Williamson’s drive is up to 13.1 a game, previously being at 9.3 according to NBA Advanced Stats. The additional touches and drives dramatically help the Pelicans’ offensive productivity and could not be possible without a player in Hart’s mold starting.

The clip above highlights the need for Hart to start. With Zion bringing up the ball, he can easily blow up his defender and collapses the lane, opening up a wide-open three for Hart. On top of that, Hart’s exceptional rebounding provides another element to the starting unit that Bledsoe does not have.

At times, New Orleans can struggle on the defensive glass, as Zion and Ingram are not great rebounders. With Hart’s best skill being his rebounding, their weaknesses are negated, leading to more transition opportunities as SVG may invigorate Ingram to get out on the fast break while Hart crashes the glass.

Hart’s play this season has made him an essential player to the Pelicans. His tireless effort and team mentality make him the perfect complimentary guard. It is without a doubt Hart is a crucial cog for the franchise, and as he continues to develop, he is destined to be a starting guard for New Orleans.

Follow us on Twitter @PelicansLead for the latest Pelicans news and insight. 

About Vance Abreu

An Australian trying to make it big in Toronto, Canada. Weekly articles about the Pelicans journey to a NBA championship

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