Coming off a season that saw him earn a spot on the NCAA All-American Third Team as he helped Villanova to a National Championship before declaring for and withdrawing from the 2016 NBA Draft, Josh Hart figured to play an absolutely critical role for a talented Wildcats squad looking to repeat, despite significant attrition to graduation.
Rising to the occasion, Hart, who finished his career as one of the most decorated players in Villanova basketball history, averaged a sensational 18.7 points per game, while playing terrific individual defense and doing plenty of little things on his way to winning Big East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors and becoming a consensus First Team All-American. He was key to keeping Jay Wright's program in the top five all year and in leading the Wildcats to 31-3 record heading into the NCAA Tournament, where they were upset by a battle tested Wisconsin team in the round of 32.
One of the most productive players in the 2017 senior class, the Washington D.C. native took another step forward as an NBA prospect in his fourth and final year at the college level, all while solidifying his legacy in the college game. Measured at the 2016 NBA Draft Combine, Hart stands 6'5.5 in shoes with a strong 204-pound frame. He has a solid 6'8.5 wingspan, and possesses good size and strength for a wing prospect overall. An average athlete by NBA standards who is perhaps a bit more explosive when he can gather a head of steam than one might expect, the Sidwell Friends School product makes the most of his physical tools by playing with tremendous intensity and smarts on both ends. His competitiveness made him one of the most valuable players in the country this season.
Taking on a larger role in Villanova's offense as a senior, Hart was one of just eleven players in Division I and four in high major conferences to use over 16 possessions per game and score over 1.10 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports Technology. Functioning as a true first option at the collegiate level for the first time, Hart did most of his damage playing off the ball, but was also often asked to create shots for himself and others out of the pick and roll. There isn't much flash to Hart's game and his calling card offensively at this stage is perhaps more his ability to do a little bit of everything than any one particular element. He's an intelligent, opportunistic scorer who scored in a variety of ways at the college level.
With 63% of his shots coming from the perimeter in the half court over the course of the season, perhaps the biggest development in Hart's game from this time a year ago is the improvement, at least on paper, of his jump shot. Knocking down 40.4% of his 5.1 three-point attempts per game, up from 35.7% a year ago, Hart has improved his mechanics a bit and cleaned up his release to a degree, but still shoots a somewhat labored jump shot that includes a hitch at the top. This limits his ability to make shots off the dribble and raises some concerns about his ability to seamlessly translate his range to the NBA line. Despite the lack of aesthetic appeal, Hart's improvement this year was encouraging and his work ethic leaves some room for optimism in his ability to emerge as a capable spot up threat down the road.
Off the bounce, Hart lacks a degree of shiftiness and explosiveness, making it difficult for him to turn the corner at times already at the college level, but he is a highly capable straight driver who is quick to get downhill. He's always been adept at using his strength off the bounce and remains a tremendously opportunistic finishing inside. Shooting 66% around the rim in the half court, Hart has long been one of the better finishing wings in the country, displaying good body control and a knack for drawing contact, allowing him to overcome his lack of freakish explosiveness around the rim. How his aggressiveness initiating contact and ability to finish against length translates to the NBA game remains to be seen, as his lack of creativity and leaping ability limited at times last season, despite his gaudy numbers in close.
Not much of pull-up shooter, with an arm-reliant stroke that he often releases on the way down, Hart made around 33.7% of his off the dribble jumpers this season. His midrange game has never been his calling card due to his lack of great consistency off the bounce and inability to regularly create separation away from the rim in one-on-one situations.
As a passer, Hart proved capable this season, dishing out 3.8 assists per-40 minutes pace adjusted compared to 2.5 turnovers. He isn't a dynamic shot creator, but he does a good job moving the ball unselfishly on the perimeter and not trying to do too much off the dribble at this stage in his career.
A terrific offensive rebounder for a guard who moves well off the ball and finds easy shots inside with his hustle and strong feel for the game, Hart does a lot of little things offensively that buoyed his efficiency at the college level and could help him carve out a niche in the NBA, even if he doesn't have one obvious elite level skill. He plays an efficient, low-mistake brand of basketball, but is not particularly dynamic with the ball in his hands and concerns about his shooting mechanics give scouts pause. Despite that, his effort, unselfishness, and ability to execute give him intriguing role-player potential and could serve him well if he can prove himself as a cog against quality competition. His maturity, basketball IQ and work ethic figure to give him a better chance than most at making things work.
Something similar can be said about Hart defensively, where he proved to be one of the more capable wings in the college game as a senior. A coach's dream in terms of toughness, Hart lacks great length for his position at the NBA level, but has decent quickness, gets in the passing lanes well, and scrapped and clawed at an impressive level for a player often carrying a significant burden offensively many nights this season.
One of the top seniors in the college game this season, Josh Hart made significant strides in a few key areas while closing the book on his terrific college career. Improving steadily over the last few years, there's room for optimism about Hart at the next level. He may not have tremendous upside, but his maturity and strong base of fundamentals on both ends should be enough to secure him a guaranteed NBA roster spot and show that his game can translate to the next level.