The case for Josh Hart as a Sixers' 2nd-round pick

The case for Josh Hart as a Sixers' 2nd-round pick

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.

Josh Hart
School: Villanova
Height: 6-5
Weight: 209
Wingspan: 6-8¼ 

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.

Best of NBA: Pelicans hold off late Lakers rally for 1st win

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Best of NBA: Pelicans hold off late Lakers rally for 1st win

LOS ANGELES -- Anthony Davis scored 27 points, DeMarcus Cousins had 20 and the New Orleans Pelicans withstood a furious rally to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 119-112 on Sunday night for their first victory of the season.

The Pelicans led by 22 points in the second quarter and were still up by double figures heading into the final period, but the Lakers made a charge despite a poor shooting night from rookie Lonzo Ball.

Reserve Jordan Clarkson had 24 points for the Lakers, but Ball shot just 3 for 13 for eight points. He did have 13 assists and eight rebounds.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope started and scored 20 points in his first appearance for the Lakers. Rookie Kyle Kuzma also had 20.

E'Twaun Moore, who went 0 for 5 in his last game, added 19 points for the Pelicans (1-2), while Jrue Holiday and Ian Clark each had 14 (see full recap).

Wiggins' heave banks in, leads Timberwolves past Thunder
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Andrew Wiggins' 3-pointer from a few steps inside halfcourt banked in as time expired to give the Minnesota Timberwolves a 115-113 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night.

Oklahoma City's Carmelo Anthony had hit a 3-pointer with 5.1 seconds left to give the Thunder the lead before the Timberwolves inbounded to Wiggins, who rushed up the court and got free with help from a crushing pick by Karl-Anthony Towns before pulling up for the winner.

Wiggins scored 27 points and Towns had 27 points and 12 rebounds for Minnesota (2-1).

Russell Westbrook scored 15 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter for the Thunder, who were coming off a loss at Utah on Saturday night. Anthony scored 23 points and Paul George scored 14 points on 6-for-20 shooting. Steven Adams had 17 points and 13 rebounds for the Thunder (see full recap).

Allen Crabbe scored 20 points, Nets beat Hawks
NEW YORK -- Allen Crabbe scored 20 points, DeMarre Carroll had 17 and the Brooklyn Nets beat the Atlanta Hawks 116-104 on Sunday.

Caris LeVert and D'Angelo Russell each had 16 points to help the Nets improve to 2-1 with their second straight victory.

Marco Belinelli had 19 points for Atlanta. The Hawks have lost two in a row to drop to 1-2.

Atlanta point guard Dennis Schroeder went down with an apparent ankle injury with 3:37 left and had to be helped off the court.

Brooklyn found a way to win once again without Jeremy Lin, who was lost for the season on opening night with a knee injury, holding off the Hawks after leading by 16 points late in the third (see full recap).

Winless Suns fire head coach Earl Watson

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Winless Suns fire head coach Earl Watson

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns have fired coach Earl Watson just three games in to the NBA season.

The Suns announced the firing Sunday night after hours of meetings at the team's headquarters.

Assistant coach Jay Triano, a former head coach of the Toronto Raptors, was named interim coach. Triano was an assistant at Portland before coming to Phoenix last year.

Watson was promoted from assistant to interim coach of the Suns after Jeff Hornacek was fired Feb. 1, 2016. The interim tag was removed on April 19 of that year. With an extremely young team, the Suns struggled under Watson. He compiled a 33-85 record. Watson's only full season was 2016-17, when the team went 24-58.

The 38-year-old Watson played collegiately at UCLA and in the NBA for 10 seasons. He often spoke of his long talks with John Wooden, emphasized togetherness and a family atmosphere to nurture the young squad but wins were hard to come by.

And owner Robert Sarver apparently didn't like what he saw. Phoenix is 0-3 and two of the losses were especially ugly. The Suns were blown out 124-76 by the Portland in their season opener Wednesday night, the most one-sided loss in franchise history and the most one-sided season opener for any NBA team.

Phoenix was routed by the Clippers in Los Angeles 130-88 on Saturday night.

"I Dont wanna be here," point guard Eric Bledsoe tweeted Sunday, just as the news of Watson's firing surfaced in an ESPN report. The tweet by Bledsoe, a former Clipper, was followed by one from the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan saying "Come back home bro."

Bledsoe has been rumored in possible trades for months.

Watson's dismissal is the first NBA coaching change in well over a year. Hornacek's hiring by the New York Knicks, which was finalized in June 2016, had been the most recent change -- and the irony there is that Watson got the job in Phoenix with 33 games left in the 2015-16 season, after the Suns fired Hornacek.

Watson was the league's second-youngest active coach behind the Lakers' Luke Walton, and the Suns were tied with the Chicago Bulls as having the youngest opening-night roster in the NBA this season.

"I'd like to see the fight be a little bit more," Watson said after the blowout loss to the Clippers. "Or a lot more, until you know they're just fatigued."

The Suns came into this season with only four losses by 40 or more points in franchise history. They've had two in the first three games of this season. Phoenix has not made the playoffs in seven years, the longest drought in the franchise's 49-year history.

Watson was the 17th Suns coach in the franchise's history.

This was the first NBA season where every coach who started one year had the same job to begin the next.