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Josh Hart and his junkyard dog mentality fit wonderfully on this New Orleans Pelicans team

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As James Harden’s frustration level once attested, Hart’s a keeper

New Orleans Pelicans v Houston Rockets Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Josh Hart bandwagon in New Orleans started to quickly fill up with supporters the day he became a Pelican last summer.

Whether due in some part to brilliant marketing or a player just happy to escape the turmoil in Los Angeles and feel wanted elsewhere, Hart has said and done all of the right things in The Big Easy since the moment he first arrived. For instance, Hart spoke quite highly about the potential of a New Orleans Pelicans team that had yet to spend one minute on the court together before it became commonplace.

If you’ve followed Hart since the Anthony Davis trade, you know about the campaign he put together to ingratiate himself with NOLA and its basketball fan base, but if you need a refresher, I wrote about it over the summer.

But what’s a mouth writing checks worth if an ass can’t cash it, right? Hart’s confidence was backed up by his tough style of play on the floor this season, giving the Pelicans grit, swagger, and the presence of a glue guy they have dearly missed in recent memory. However, he’s exuded that junkyard dog mentality previously.

Last season with the Lakers, Hart helped L.A. knock off the Dallas Mavericks by going toe-to-toe with Luka Doncic.

“I wanted to pick him up full and see what his dog was,” Hart said. “That was the biggest thing, he had a couple tough shots and obviously I was happy with that, I don’t really care. I just wanted to see what his dog was, and I just knew, just get up in him, be physical with him and see what happens.”

Among Pelicans fans, who could forget the game against the Houston Rockets this season where Hart frustrated James Harden to the point he accidentally smacking himself hard in the face with the ball in vivid frustration?

When this NBA season was paused due to COVID-19, Hart was averaging over ten points per game to go along with six and a half rebounds and providing tough-nosed defense. Everyone has spoken about the future of Brandon Ingram at length, as well as Jrue Holiday and more recently Lonzo Ball, but Hart deserves a seat at the table when speaking about the future of the Pelicans.

Next to Derrick Favors and Zion Williamson, no one is averaging more rebounds a contest on the Pelicans. I normally equate a wing of Hart’s size (6’5) and possessing a high rebounding rate to a safety leading a football team in tackles: Someone in front isn’t doing their job adequately. But in this case, the Pelicans rank fourth across the league in total rebounds per game.

As their 13th-rated rebounding percentage attests, New Orleans is not perfect and can still improve — especially late in games (24th REB% in clutch time minutes), but overall Hart is shining next to his teammates, not in spite of them. In fact, inch for inch there may not be a better rebounder in basketball. Hart is tied league-wide with Dejounte Murray for 38th in rebound percentage. Ironically, they’re two of three guards in the top 40, with the other being Luka Doncic.

Offensively, Hart was back to shooting well from three at 36 percent, but a bad slump through five games in March dragged his numbers down. Outside of his perimeter shooting, Hart made a positive impact in transition, ranking fourth on the team in points behind Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson and Jrue Holiday.

Not bad for a guy some considered a throw-in among the pieces in the Anthony Davis trade.

If you’re an employee somewhere, it’s easy to compare your importance to a company next to the salary you’re paid. Hart will be doing the same very soon as he’s up for a contract extension during the next offseason.

As our own Zachary Junda wrote in February:

“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.”

It’s no secret that David Griffin will soon have to address the roster and present numerous players various offers. If Hart’s first year with the New Orleans Pelicans was any indication, he deserves to be included in those plans and paid accordingly. Winning ball clubs need strong-minded, physical role players sitting on their bench, chomping at the bit to be unleashed on opponents and provide that ferocious bark.