If the Summer League in Las Vegas ended today, Josh Hart would be the easy choice for MVP.
He’s led a young group of Lakers not just on the offensive end, scoring more total points than any other player (90, or 22.5 per game), but has also been L.A.’s leader on defense. He’s routinely locked up opposing wings (like Philly’s Furkan Korkmaz, who had 40 points in his first game before Hart shut him down), switched over onto hot players (like New York’s Kevin Knox) and played with a constant and infectious intensity.
Led by Hart, the Lakers improved to a perfect 4-0 with Thursday evening’s 82-69 win over the Clippers, advancing to Sunday’s quarterfinals to face the winner of a Saturday matchup between Detroit and Chicago. L.A. not only won all four games with relative ease, but they lost only two out of 16 total quarters, outscoring their opponent 11 times and tying twice within a given period.
What does that tell you? That they’ve played hard, and well, especially on the defensive end. And that’s especially impressive at the Summer League, when so many players are fighting for their NBA lives, desperately trying to impress the hundreds of personnel folks that loom over the court. It can be hard to get players to buy in defensively and to share the ball on offense in such a setting, but the Lakers have figured something out, having now won 10 consecutive games in Sin City.
While last year’s No. 2 overall pick Lonzo Ball – the MVP – and No. 27 selection Kyle Kuzma – the championship game MVP – led the way, it’s been the team’s 30th pick this time around.
I asked the Villanova product after Thursday’s win what his primary focus has been here in Las Vegas.
“Win,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. That’s my best characteristic. Obviously I wanted to show that I’ve improved since April, (like) shooting off the dribble and those kind of things, but I wanted to win.”
His backcourt mate Alex Caruso, the only other player on the roster with NBA experience – albeit just 37 games – has also been terrific, forming a physical, strong defensive pairing in the backcourt.
“They set the tone every night,” said Summer League coach Miles Simon. “What I love is they don’t play too cool, like they’re not supposed to be here at Summer League. They’re here, they work hard, and they lead our group, and they set the tone on both ends of the floor for us with their talk, their leadership and especially their toughness.”
Simon is very familiar with Hart’s game, since he’s been his development coach ever since Hart was drafted, and actually knew him from a Nike Skills Academy camp at which Simon was in charge and Hart was a counselor.
They’ve been working on a number of things since last June, and progressed significantly since the regular season ended with Hart scoring at least 20 points in his final four games. His splits as a starter were terrific for a rookie (22 games): 13.3 points with 6.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steals on 49.6 percent from the field and 42.2 percent from three.
But again, he’s already gotten better. He’s not just a three and D guy. Shooting off the dribble to three-point range? Check. Dribble moves to get past his initial defender? Check. Ballhandling in transition after grabbing a defensive rebound? Check.
“I see it every day, the improvement,” Simon said. “Now, are there mistakes made when we go through our workouts, yep, but you can see what we’ve done is translating to the games, how comfortable he feels with the ball in his hands. Creating a shot, getting to the rim. I love to see the hard work paying off.”
I asked Hart if he’d heard the rising chatter about his play in Vegas, such as ESPN’s Doris Burke going on SportsCenter and declaring him the MVP.
“It’s all background noise,” he said. “At the end of the day, I want to be known for winning. I would rather have a championship than MVP.”
Here’s the thing … if the Lakers win three more games, he will get both.
src : nba.com/lakers