Josh Hart matures during summer league, wins MVP
LAS VEGAS — Josh Hart wasn’t around to see the conclusion of the summer league as he was ejected from the championship game after criticizing the officials.
The Lakers fell short in the title game, losing to Portland 91-73 on Tuesday night.
Hart earned league MVP honors for a stellar two-week performance. He had a team-record 37 points in the double-overtime win over Cleveland in the semifinals on Monday. Yet, his main takeaway from the game was that he, “missed two clutch free throws.”
His performance on Monday surpassed the 36-point effort by Lonzo Ball last year.
“I don’t go for individual accolades,” said Hart, who finished with 12 points in the title game. “That’s never been a reason why I played this game. I play this game to win. That’s the biggest thing, I came here to win, I came here to dominate.”
And while the Lakers couldn’t repeat as summer league champions, and he did anything but dominate during his disappointing appearance in the final, the 6-foot-5 shooting guard’s evolution since the conclusion of his rookie season is what became apparent, and exactly what the Lakers needed to see.
“We’ve been going since the middle of May, we focused on some things he needed to work on, talked about leadership qualities going into summer league because he was one of our veteran presence that has played legit NBA minutes, and he took all those things and carried into the three-week process here – and he was phenomenal every night,” Lakers summer league coach Miles Simon said. “I really love Josh for that because he fought to continue to play cause he’s a competitor and he’s a winner and we’re trying to build a championship mentality throughout our organization and we talk about those things every day. And Josh embodied all those things over this time.”
He embodied the type of player Lakers coach Luke Walton is hoping will complement a lineup that is sure to be resuscitated with the most polarizing figure in sports – LeBron James.
“Josh is a phenomenal player, I have fun watching him grow from school, it’s amazing,” said Portland’s KJ McDaniels, who scored 17 points and earned game MVP honors. “He did great leading his team every day. It’s always good going against the best guys in the league. He’s going to do great things with the Lakers.”
Sidelined in March after undergoing surgery to repair a broken left hand, Hart finished the regular season averaging 7.9 points per game and grabbing 4.2 rebounds per game. He also shot 39.6 percent from 3-point range, leading the team in 3-point percentage.
Since the offseason Simon said the focus has been to push Hart with a few aspects of his game that needed improvement: ball handling, shooting off the dribble and working off a pick-and-roll.
“Nothing that he did here surprised me, it’s things we concentrated on and that he’s worked on,” Simon said. “He brings it every day to the gym in the offseason with a tremendous work ethic and you can see the payoff here in summer league. And that is going to be a great springboard for him going into training camp.”