Madison Square Garden has dimmed to a still murmur to hear the newest New York Knicks guard, Josh Hart, speak to them for the first time. Hart stood with his teammate, Jalen Brunson, reunited from their Villanova championship days.
MSG Sideline Reporter, Rebecca Harlow, introduced Hart to the Garden faithful with a leading
question, “You’re getting a little taste of the Garden fans tonight, Josh. But the aggressiveness,
the second-chance opportunities, the hustle. Is this what Knicks fans can expect from you?”
Hart wasted no time delivering a plain and clear call and response, “Yeah, for sure. Like I said
before, I’m a dawg.”
Before the word “dawg,” could leave Hart’s mouth the word had reverberated across the Garden, eliciting raging cheers from all corners of the stadium. The Garden was cheering Hart’s arrival as much as they were the Knicks landing perhaps the second-best trade deadline acquisition after Phoenix and Kevin Durant.
Over the last 20 years, the New York Knicks’ quest to land a superstar has gone futile, with the exception of
Carmelo Anthony. But the Knicks have also had a hell of a time bringing in “dawgs” as well. The “Blood in the Garden” archetype Knicks player, immortalized by Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason, Mark Jackson, and John Starks have been few and far between over the last two decades.
Hart has been a breath of fresh air for a team that has suffered crunch-time collapses this season.
What New York Knicks’ deal for Josh Hart has meant
The Knicks have been a revelation this season, currently sitting in sixth place in the Eastern
Conference and a bonafide defensive juggernaut. But in the three short games Hart has played,
he has been instrumental in the last five minutes, ensuring a 3-0 record in his tenure with clutch
shots, dogged defense, and high IQ decision-making.
Durant’s trade to the Phoenix Suns was the clear-cut winner of the deadline deal-making. But
when considering all factors — baggage and risk — the Knicks fleecing of Hart from the Portland
Trail Blazers for benched Cam Reddish and a heavily-protected 2023 first-round pick, was the
second-best pickup of the deadline. This might sound startling to those who witnessed stars like Kyrie Irving change teams. But Hart comes with none of the on- or off-the-court baggage of Irving, Bones Hyland, D’Angelo Russell, or former No. 2 pick, James Wiseman.
In his three games with the Knicks, Hart has demonstrated the full repertoire of his intangibles.
With the New York Knicks, he’s averaging 17 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.7 steals. He’s added much-needed offensive dynamism, toughness, and verbal leadership while on the court. In the 77
minutes Hart has played, the Knicks have outscored their opponents by 41 points through three games.
The Knicks’ second unit has been anemic offensively, with third-year guard Immanuel Quickley carrying the majority of the load as the sixth man. The other bench players who make up head coach Tom Thibodeau’s nine-man rotation (Isaiah Hartenstein and Obi Toppin) struggle
to score. Meanwhile, Hart has shown a willingness to adjust to what the team needs, busting out
for 27 points against the Nets, hitting 4-of-6 from three. In his first game against the Jazz, Hart
finished the game with 11 points, seven rebounds, four steals, and four assists while knocking
down two clutch 3-pointers at the end of the fourth quarter that made the difference in a close game.
Hart has been just as potent in crunch time, where he is averaging 10 minutes a game in the fourth quarter. NBA.com measures his impact with a plus-20 in those pivotal fourth-quarter minutes. His impact has reversed course for a Knicks team that has experienced heartbreaking fourth-quarter collapses, such as the brutal loss to the Dallas Mavericks on the road in late December.
Since Hart arrived he has brought a “dawg mentality” that fuels his win-at-all-costs mentality, a
reflection of Thibodeau.
Hart gives the New York Knicks stability in the present and insurance for the future. If starting small
forward and homegrown talent RJ Barrett continues to struggle after signing a four-year, $120
million extension he could be moved this summer. Barrett was involved in trade negotiations for
Donovan Mitchell last summer before signing his extension. And with the Knicks’ negotiations
with the Chicago Bulls for Zach LaVine going down to the wire this trade deadline before falling
through, it’s clear they plan on using their extensive draft capital and depth for a star — sooner
rather than later.
In addition, Josh Hart could be insurance, as he is a free agent this summer and could be retained if they choose to move on from Barrett and are in need of sustained depth. Many of the trades at the deadline were by contenders looking for competitive advantages while addressing depth issues. But none of the pieces acquired by playoff teams like the New York Knicks were for a player who fits in seamlessly off the bat or identified with the team’s established identity.
Tom Thibodeau compares Josh Hart to All-Star
It makes sense Hart has reportedly had a fan in Thibodeau since his days in Minnesota with the
Timberwolves. He is made of the same toughness as Jimmy Butler, Loul Deng, and Taj Gibson,
guys Thibodeau has trusted to close out games throughout his coaching career. In New York,
Hart has the potential to unlock all of his talents as Thibodeau has trusted him with a primary
role in crunch time, giving him a green light to let it fly from three and entrusting him with the
toughest defensive assignments.
“Watching Jimmy in college and the things he did at Marquette, Josh reminded me of that with the things he did at Villanova,” Thibodeau told reporters last week. “I think those types of players give your team heart, toughness, and that goes a long way.”
All of the New York Knicks’ rotation players are under 28 years old, with Julius Randle being the elder
statesman. Outside of the obvious need for a true superstar, Hart fills the Knicks’ biggest need
for a defensive forward off the bench capable of exploding for 20 points.
Hart has shown he can be whatever the Knicks need him to be on any given night. He can’t be expected to drop 27 points every game as he did against the Nets, but he can be a steady 15-18 ppg off the bench. By adding him to the Knicks bench unit, known as Mobb Deep (Jericho Sims, Toppin, Quickley, and Hartenstein), Hart can add scoring without sacrificing defense.
How he impacts how far the New York Knicks go in the playoffs could dictate the Knicks’ decision-making process this summer concerning the team’s star pursuit. In the regular season, Hart has already shown the Knicks fleeced the Blazers in acquiring a player who appears to be built for New York.
Lee Escobedo covers the NBA for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @_leeescobedo