Back in 2016, Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart teamed up to help the Villanova Wildcats win the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1985.
Seven years later, the New York Knicks have reunited these two college teammates after they acquired the six-year veteran Hart from the Portland Trail Blazers in a four-team trade before last week’s NBA trade deadline.
The hope is that this duo can rekindle their winning chemistry from their Villanova days, but this time around at the professional level, as New York continues what seems to be a never ending quest to regain relevance in the NBA.
Brunson, who is having a career year in his first season with the team, was undoubtedly thrilled with the addition of Hart as caught on camera.
The rest of the Knicks have been invigorated by Hart’s presence as well and the team has gone 3-0 since his debut earlier this week. The toughness and intensity that Hart brings to the table make him the perfect player for head coach Tom Thibodeau whose penchant for hard nosed players is well known around the league.
Hart’s defensive acumen and strong rebounding ability as a 6’5 guard have always been his strength since entering the NBA in 2017 and this will only be maximized under Thibodeau. While he has kicked off his stint with the Knicks as their sixth man, Hart has not been lacking for playing time. He has played an average of 26 minutes a contest so far and is putting up 17 points on 62% field goal shooting, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.7 steals per game.
It is possible that Hart could eventually leapfrog current starting guard Quentin Grimes as the postseason approaches, especially if he can continue producing at this level and consistently hit his three-pointers.
Hart’s ability to make his outside shots may ultimately be the deciding factor in determining how big of a role he will play on this team that is bereft of spacing moving forward. He hit 37.3% of his three-pointers in his 13 games with the Portland Trail Blazers in the second half of last season, yet his shooting has declined to 33.1% this year which is below his career average of 34.5%.
If Hart can duplicate–or even exceed–his 37.3% clip with the Blazers, there should be no reason for Thibodeau not to put Hart in the starting line-up or at least give him starter’s minutes in the coming weeks.
This recent Hart-fueled winning streak of the Knicks has pushed up their record on the season to 33-27 and they are now in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. They are only two games behind the Brooklyn Nets, whom many expect to fall in the standings after trading away Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and could potentially leapfrog them with 22 games still remaining on their schedule.
Though New York still has a ways to go before they can be considered championship contenders, establishing a culture that is influenced by the intangibles that Brunson and Hart bring to the table is a step in the right direction. The Knicks have long been one of the league’s most frustrating franchises, but their recent moves to reshape their team are definitely a step in the right direction.