When the ball is up for grabs, best believe that Josh Hart already has the inside track on it.
Of the 81 rebounds Team USA has gotten thus far two games into the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, Hart has accounted for 15 of those, good for nearly 20 percent of the team’s total. That he leads the Americans in rebounding despite only being taller than Jalen Brunson makes this feat all the more impressive.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Hart does this and more given that this is what he does on a nightly basis in the NBA, but that he can still be this effective in FIBA play speaks volumes as to why he was viewed as a gem of a draft find by the Los Angeles Lakers and a sought-after trade piece by the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, and the New York Knicks, who gave him a four-year, $81-million extension. In fact, Greece got the full Josh Hart experience first-hand in their 109-81 loss to USA.
Hart has easily assumed the Andre Iguodola role of this iteration of Team USA; the tip of the spear on defense, a ball handler who can start plays and create scoring opportunities for teammates, and someone who can restart possessions when needed. He is, after all, the oldest player on the squad, so the need to take on a leading role on both on and off the court is a given.
With a playing field that continues to get better with each passing year, the key for the Americans to clinch their record-breaking sixth Naismith Trophy will be in mastering the little things. Securing possessions and making key stops are the easy answers, but for prime examples, one need not look further than whatever Hart does on the court.
At times, Hart takes on the opponents’ lead ball handler pretty much 90 feet away from the basket. Opponents crossing halfcourt may make it seem unsuccessful, but Hart’s pressure taking away a few seconds from the shot clock may have been enough to disrupt a possession.
Unlike other offensive rebounders, Hart has relied on quick thinking to restart possessions. It’s an effective tactic that takes advantage of defenses that aren’t so quick in recalibrating themselves off a missed rebound. It doesn’t necessarily generate assists, but a trait like this has generated points nonetheless and kept him on the court for longer periods of time.
With these traits, Team USA head coach Steve Kerr has been able to become more creative with his lineups, letting Paolo Banchero take on center duties and Tyrese Haliburton take on more scoring opportunities. Even when there’s no traditional point guard nearby, the ball can still end up in the right places thanks to plays like this.
Looking at the bigger picture, there’s still a lot of basketball to be played. However, the Americans have thus far responded to the challenges thrown at them and unlike the Team USA that competed in the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, there aren’t really any pressing issues at the moment. That being said, the Americans haven’t achieved anything yet, but Hart and co. seem to be peaking at the right time.
Facing Jordan to close out the first part of the preliminary round should provide them opportunities to sharpen themselves before the second phase. Greece was already Team USA’s toughest opponent in Group C, but complacency will be their biggest hurdle from here on out.
Scoring points and limiting that of your opponents are what Team USA obviously must do to win the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, but Josh Hart’s contributions will be instrumental to achieving those objectives. Hart has given “here, there, and everywhere” a new meaning and if things fall into place, the Naismith Trophy should be safely in his (and the Americans’) hands.