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Hart and Soul: Josh Hart has emerged as New Orleans Pelicans best reserve and he’s a keeper

Hart has been thriving. It’s time to not only applaud him but think about his future.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

If we were to go back and rank at all the treasures the New Orleans Pelicans received from the Los Angeles Lakers in the Anthony Davis trade, Josh Hart probably wouldn’t have been near the top of any lists.

The Pelicans got flashier, more tantalizing assets than Hart. There was Brandon Ingram who, despite missing the end of last season due to a blood clot, showed significant improvement and led many to believe there was still untapped, future All-Star potential; there was Lonzo Ball, whose name was bigger than his level play certainly, but like Ingram was young enough and talented enough to warrant hope of a brighter future; and then there were picks.

The Pelicans got three No. 1 picks and the right to swap several others from Los Angeles. First round picks are like Amazon gift cards: you don’t know what you’ll get with them at first, but you know there’s value.

And then there was Josh Hart. The third year small forward/two-guard who was just okay as a Laker. Hart had the lowest risk but also the lowest reward among Ingram, Ball and those future draft picks.

Flash forward to today and an argument could be made that Josh Hart is every bit as valuable in his role to the Pelicans as Ingram, Holiday, or gasp, Zion Williamson are in theirs.

Hart has been a Tasmanian devil of energy off the bench for New Orleans, especially in recent weeks. Since Zion’s debut, Hart has averaged 10 points and eight rebounds, while shooting the three-ball at a 41 percent clip.

Hart’s been fearless going after rebounds. He’s second only to Derrick Favors in total rebounding, but actually one ups Favors in grabbing defensive boards. For the year, Hart’s rebounding percentage is 10.7 percent, but in the 11 games since Zion’s debut, that number has jumped to 14 percent, including grabbing 24 percent of all defensive boards when on the floor.

Hart has also shown an improved three-point shot. In two years as a Laker, Hart was a 36 percent shooter from deep. To date, Hart has kept true to form, hitting threes at a 36 percent rate; but over the last month, Hart has been improved to a 41 percent shooter, including hitting 44 percent of his catch-and-shoot three-pointers.

But Hart’s impact isn’t merely scoring. He’s the guy making the plays that don’t show up in the box score. Hart makes the pass that comes before the assist, he makes the deflection that leads to Lonzo throwing up a lob to Zion, he grabs the rebound then finds the open shooter for second chance points, like in New Orleans’ 138-117 win over Portland.

“When I come off the bench, now I’m looking for a couple of rebounds to get me going,” Hart said. “I want to be able to affect the game without scoring. If I score, it’s really just a bonus.”

The thing is, Hart does score. In fact, not only is he averaging a career-best 10.7 points a game, he’s the Pelicans second leading scorer out of the fastbreak behind Zion, naturally.

New Orleans picked up Josh Hart’s fourth-year contract option a few days after the regular season began. Next summer, the Pelicans will have to decide whether or not to extend Hart. Hopefully, the front office believes that Hart fits in New Orleans long-term plans regardless of cost. Few guards rebound as well as Hart does and even fewer in the league play with the type of intensity Hart has shown over the last month.

Zach Lowe recently said it best: “Every team needs a Josh Hart.”

Let’s keep the real deal in New Orleans for a very long time.