How do the Knicks benefit from adding Josh Hart?

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Josh Hart is now on the Knicks
Portland Trail Blazers guard Josh Hart (11) gestures after he made a 3-pointer during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, in Washington. The Trail Blazers won 124-116. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Before the trade deadline exploded with the news of Kevin Durant being traded to Phoenix, the Knicks made an under-the-radar addition by trading for guard/forward Josh Hart from the Portland Trail Blazers. 

The Knicks had been rumored to be interested in Hart earlier in the day on Wednesday, but pulled the trigger around 10 pm, sending Cam Reddish, Ryan Arcidiacono, Svi Mykhailiuk, and a protected first-round pick to Portland for the 27-year-old. 

So how should Knicks fans feel about the move?


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How does Josh Hart fit on the Knicks?

Let’s start with Josh Hart as a player. 

Despite being 6’5″ Josh Hart is one of the better rebounding guard/forwards in the NBA. He’s currently averaging 8.2 rebounds per game and averaged more than 7.4 rebounds over the last six years between New Orleans and Portland. His 28.3% defensive rebounding rate is 4th best among guards in the NBA who have played over 10 games this season. 

That’s good news because the Knicks struggle as a defensive rebounding team, ranking 21st in the NBA in defensive rebounding rate. Remember the Los Angeles Clippers’ loss?

In addition to his rebounding prowess, Hart is a tremendous slasher who pushes the pace and creates opportunities in transition. It’s a big reason he has 3.9 assists per game this season and averaged 4.0 assists per game while in Portland. That should fit great in the second unit alongside Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin. 

Hart is also a strong perimeter defender, which is crucial for the Knicks. According to FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR metric, Hart is the 12th-best small forward in the entire NBA when it comes to Wins Above Replacement. He ranks as the 23rd-best small forward when it comes to defense alone and has averaged at least 1.1 steals per game in each of the last four seasons. 

Hart has the best plus/minus on Portland. They’re +3.3 with him on and -5.6 with him off. His strengths (rebounding, transition offense, perimeter defense) are exactly what the Knicks need, and his weakness (three-point shooting) is already a team weakness and something he won’t be asked to do much when playing alongside Quickley and Toppin. 

What’s more, even though Hart is shooting just 30.4% from beyond the arc this season, he is a career 34.3% shooter and shot over 37% from deep last year, so there should be some natural regression to the mean when it comes to his shooting. 

Josh Hart is now a member of the New York Knicks
Josh Hart in Portland (Wikimedia Commons)

What does this mean for the Knicks’ rotations and playing time?

Hart will almost assuredly come off of the bench; however, his overall impact on the Knicks will depend almost entirely on Tom Thibodeau. 

In order to get Hart, New York traded away three players who never saw the floor. That means the trade opened up no new minutes in the rotation, so how Thibodeau gets Hart into the lineup will determine how effective he can be as a member of the team. 

The most likely consequence is that Miles McBride’s minutes are significantly cut, which is a shame since McBride has been playing well of late and is the team’s highest-rated perimeter defender. Yet, if it’s just a one-for-one swap and Hart is inserted into McBride’s 13 minutes a game and McBride is removed from the rotation that would not only limit Hart’s ability to help this team and also rob the Knicks of McBride’s defensive prowess. 

What must happen is that Thibodeau has to be better and more creative in his substitutions. He can no longer play all of his starters for the first nine to ten minutes of the game. He can no longer keep strict rotations that prevent some of the bench players from seeing minutes on the floor with the starters. He can no longer allow four or more starters to play essentially the whole game. 

Hart is going to need more than 13 minutes. He should play alongside his college teammate Jalen Brunson and Mitchell Robinson, when he returns, so he can run in transition with both of them. McBride should still be used in spurts when the Knicks need his energy and defensive juice. 

But it’s on Thibodeau to adjust to make that happen. The front office gambled that Thibodeau’s rigidity wouldn’t get in the way after their acquisition of Cam Reddish last year. Instead, Thibodeau refused to play Reddish, and the Knicks were forced to trade him away despite using a first-round pick to get him a year ago. 

That can’t happen again. 

Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson will now be teammates on the Knicks
Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson as teammates at Villanova (Wikimedia commons)

What does this mean for the future?

We’ll end by addressing most fans’ biggest concern: trading away a first-round pick. 

After this trade, New York still has six first-round picks and six second-round picks over the next three years. Considering the Knicks also have 11 players under the age of 27 who can be viewed as rotation pieces who are on “good contracts,” they still have an abundance of assets for a star and still retain depth. 

The Knicks did not mortgage their future in this trade. 

Even though both the Detroit and Washington first-round picks the Knicks have are top-18-protected in 2023, the Dallas first-round pick is likely to convey, which means the Knicks will still have a first-round pick this year. Given how full their rotation is, they were likely never going to be able to draft more than one usable player this year. 

That is another key factor that Knicks fans should consider. The team has multiple years and lots of money tied up in four starters (Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Brunson, Robinson). Unless they give up on one, it limits how they can build a title contender. The only options are to trade from their picks and young players for a stud shooting guard to slot into the starting lineup or assemble a deep team and try to contend that way (or trade RJ Barrett but that’s a conversation for another day). 

Since we’ve covered that New York still has the pieces to acquire a stud player, this move doesn’t impact any of the few avenues they have to build a contender. 

This trade also shouldn’t be viewed as a “rental.” Hart was Leon Rose’s client when Rose was still an agent, and Hart remains a CAA client, sharing an agent with Randle. He is also close friends with Brunson, which you can see from this video here showing Brunson’s reaction to the trade

As ESPN’s Bobby Marks reported, it’s likely that Josh Hart is going to decline his player option and become a free agent. But this trade allowed New York to acquire his Bird Rights, which means they can sign him to a $16-17 million contract if they want to. If he was a free agent and this trade did not happen, they were not going to be able to sign him to a deal like that. 

For all of those reasons, it would seem likely that Hart will be back with the Knicks next season as well. 

Did they give up a lot to get him? Sure. Does he make this team a championship contender? No. Does he make the Knicks better? Yes, unquestionably. Considering how this team is being built, the addition of Hart is a solid one that makes this team deeper and more well-rounded. 

For more Knicks coverage, like this Josh Hart article, visit amNY Sports


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