After a poor showing at the NBA Draft Combine, Villanova guard Josh Hart elected to return to college for his senior year. Last year’s championship Villanova team was one of the more balanced in the country, but many would argue that Hart was the team’s best player. He led the team in scoring, was second in rebounds, and was versatile enough to match-up 1-4 on the defensive end of things. Coming into his final season of college basketball, Hart is considered one of the best players in the college game. In an anonymous poll of NCAA coaches, Hart got the 5th most votes for being the most-wanted player by other coaches.
While Hart is well on the way to cementing a great college career, he retains some intrigue as a potentially exciting NBA prospect. What follows is a breakdown of his current game, and what he will need to improve on to secure himself as a first round pick in next year’s draft.
Despite being Villanova’s leading scorer, Hart functions primarily as an off-ball threat on the offensive end. Like with most wing players, the biggest aspect of his offensive arsenal is his jump-shot. Over his past two seasons of college basketball, he’s shot a very solid 40.2 percent from three across 266 attempts. His shooting profile isn’t as stellar as those numbers would suggest though, as he dipped from an incredible 46.4 percent his sophomore season to a mere 35.7 percent in his junior year.
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Additionally, Hart is only a 70.6 percent free-throw shooter across his college career. He did shoot 75.2 percent from the line this past year, but his overall mediocre free-throw efficiency is cause for concern.
In terms of form, Hart gets truly fantastic elevation on his jumper and gets it off quickly, but also cocks the ball a little bit and shoots it too much from the center of his head. He doesn’t have the type of advanced footwork to shoot accurately off screens but he’s very capable in spot-up situations.
Hart is the rare wing-player who gets a lot of “off-ball” buckets on things other than outside shots. He’s a fantastic cutter and one of the best offensive rebounding 6-5 guards you will see. When Hart gets the ball around the basket in these situations he’s not a truly explosive leaper, but he’s a very good athlete who does a great job jumping off two feet and maintaining his balance through contact to finish around the hoop. His career 59.9 percent from two is a simply insane number for a guard his size with decent volume, and a testament to his ability to create scoring opportunities around the basket in unconventional ways.
Hart is much less of an impact player when forced to create with the ball, though he has improved significantly in that regard since his arrival at Villanova. He’s not an overly advanced ball-handler, and he plays a little too upright to break guys down in pick-and-roll situations. Where he does succeed is using his strong first step to attack closeouts and blow-by defenders from a triple-threat position.
He does a great job of elevating into his jump shot off-the-dribble and balancing himself in mid-air when he stops abruptly. He doesn’t have a “rhythm J” where he rocks defenders to sleep and rises up, but when he’s attacking the basket he’s prone to stop on a dime and score in the mid-range areas.
Villanova coach Jay Wright has even let Hart experiment a bit with playing in the post due to his strong, physical nature. Hart has flashed some fallaway jumpers and nice little floaters after hop-steps into the lane, but it’s unlikely he would ever get those type of touches in an NBA setting.
If Hart does make it into NBA rotations expect him to function as an almost strictly off-ball player. He’s a fine decision maker, but not a creative playmaker for himself or others, and he does much better attacking closeouts and cutting off-ball than playing pick-and-roll.
Hart is a versatile and effective on-ball defender. At 6-5 with a 6-8 wingspan he has solid size for guarding 1’s or 2’s, but due to his well-built frame, and the intensity and toughness he plays with, he can be effective battling bigger 3’s and even smaller 4’s. In one-on-one situations, Hart’s got good lateral quickness and the strength to cut off penetration, and when put into ball-screen action he does a quality job of fighting over and bothering his man.
Hart is not an exceptional man defender. He does not have overwhelming length, athleticism, or instincts, but he’s above-average in all respects and a definite positive on that end at that college level. Combining solid physical tools with hard work and a good mentality should allow Hart to be an average to even possibly good on-ball defender at the NBA level.
Hart’s strength and toughness, his two most endearing attributes, don’t come into play quite as much off-the-ball, but some of his other positive traits get more chance to shine. He’s a smart player who works hard and executes the scheme well. He understands how to front the post if matched up on a bigger guy and generally does a good job of not messing things up — the most important thing a player can do off-the-ball.
Unlike his teammate Mikal Bridges, Hart isn’t a playmaker on the defensive end. Like on-the-ball, nothing about his profile is exceptional enough to disrupt the opponent, but he’s more than capable of executing his role in a defensive scheme.
Hart also provides some extra value on the defensive glass. His knack for rebounding translates to both ends of the court, and he does a great job of diligently pursuing rebounds and getting himself involved more than most guards.
Hart has all of the intangibles you want out of a role player in the NBA. He’s one of the few guys who announcers can’t bring up with effusing about his work ethic and balls-to-the-walls style of play. The fact that he combines that mental makeup with solid physical tools, and signs of an outside shot are what make him an NBA prospect.
The biggest key for him in actually finding a place in the NBA is continuing to improve his outside shot. If he can shoot 38-39 percent from deep he’s probably got an NBA future, but if he only settles in at 34-35 percent he’ll probably never find consistent minutes. Watch him at Villanova this year to see if his shot comes along at all, and also if a greater offensive role leads to some more development of his ball-handling ability. A little improvement around the edges and Hart could easily see his name called towards the back-end of the first round in next year’s draft.