Over the weeks leading up to the 2017 NBA draft, we'll be making cases for the Sixers to draft several prospects. Our series will kick off with options at No. 3 (or trade downs) followed by second-round possibilities. The 2017 NBA draft will take place on June 22 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
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Bring up the first-weekend NCAA Tournament exits all you want, but Josh Hart is a winner. After all, his national title is one more than most college ballers ever get.
It's hard to understate what Hart meant to Villanova. He was the best player in a 2017 graduating class that racked up unprecedented accolades: a national championship, an undefeated Big 5 career, two Big East Tournament titles (Hart was named Most Outstanding Player during both), four Big East regular season titles and just one on-campus loss in The Pavilion. On a personal level, his senior year included being named a Naismith Award finalist and First Team All-American, taking home the Julius Erving Award as the country's best small forward and receiving Big East Player and Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Toss the trophies aside, though, and his numbers back it up. Ultimate college hoops stat guy Ken Pomeroy had Hart as his 2017 Player of the Year. Hart converted on 40 percent of his threes and shot 58 percent inside the arc his senior year. On a Villanova team that was essentially down to seven usable players for most of the season (and sometimes just six), he averaged more than 33 minutes and carried the load well, finishing the year with 18.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.
Hart's glory on the Main Line will not convert to instant stardom in the NBA. He won't step onto any roster as a starter. But he does so many things well that even with his relative age compared to one-and-dones, he's a worthy draft target. Here's why:
The case for Hart
He's not particularly flashy, but Hart can score just about any way he wants. About a third of his 673 points last season came from deep. He's solid at the line, as he shot nearly 75 percent last year. He'll back down smaller guards if needed. But what's been most impressive is his composure when driving the lane. So many times he'd finish with his off hand, convert through contact or, what seemed to become his signature move, stop in the paint, pivot and nail a short pull-up with ease.
It wasn't one of his massive efforts - like 37/11/4 against Notre Dame - but one series of possessions from this past season points to his versatility and dependability. Villanova was undefeated. A fellow top-10 team in Creighton awaited in Omaha, but the ‘Cats had problems with trap game at home against DePaul. The game was tied at 56-56 with three minutes left. Then Hart took over. He scored 10 straight ‘Nova points and pretty much single-handedly avoided the upset.
Yet Hart's abilities go beyond those of just a scoring guard. His passing satisfies. Reports are especially high on his offensive rebounding, which along with his defensive capabilities (1.6 steals per game), is a product of his unrelenting motor. Just watch this game-winning putback in the Big East Tournament over Seton Hall's Angel Delgado, the nation's leading rebounder.
The narrative with Hart, especially amongst the national media during March, was that his appeal wasn't necessarily in his above-average skills on the court. Rather, it was all about the intangibles - the quality of Hart as a person and his basketball IQ - and the way he exemplified the Villanova "attitude." The fact that he doesn't take a possession off on either end of the court makes him the kind of guy you want on your team.
The case against Hart
The numbers are strong and Hart is a popular guy. Cool. There are still some problems. Critics of his jumper say it takes a little too long to get off. He's more of a spot-up than off-the-dribble shooter, benefitting from defensive holes created by a Villanova lineup that usually had four guys on the floor who could knock down any open look.
As good as he's been in the lane, Hart currently lacks the ability it'll take to consistently get past 7-foot shot swatters, something he'll see nightly in the NBA. He's quick, but he's not as shifty as some of the NBA's top guards.
And as for those intangibles, who cares if Hart's an Eagle Scout? Teams want wins, not merit badges. Also, he's 22 years old already.
This point might be a bit tired by now, but it'll remain true until the Sixers' roster adds a few pieces: they can't shoot. Out of 30 teams, they ranked 27th in field goal percentage and 25th in three-point percentage. Shooting guard is a spot that, as of now, has no long-term occupant. The Sixers have four second-round picks and Hart could be around by the time they're on the clock. If they really like him, package some of those assets and move up.
The success of a couple of other guys bodes well for Hart's future. Darrun Hilliard was a fine ‘Nova guard - but never of Hart's caliber - and has spent two seasons with the Pistons. The Bucks' Malcolm Brogdon stayed in school through his senior year, posting numbers comparable to Hart's, and could edge out Dario Saric and Joel Embiid for Rookie of the Year. If these guys have survived, and in the case of Brogdon, thrived, Hart can do the same.
Hart has the all-around skill set that should make him a viable bench player. He's a winner, and Sixers executive Brandon Williams made it clear at a pre-draft workout this week that the Sixers value winning. Now give him a chance to win a spot in the rotation.