The Portland Trail Blazers are stuck in a valley of victory after falling to their last true peak two months ago. If and when they get back up the hill and start winning again is a mystery, but first they need to work out some of their problems. “cough” turns into “cough-cough”.
Several factors prompted a slide from the top of the Western Conference to below the 2023 NBA Play-In picture. Although today’s topic is not at the top of the list of problems, it has become quite noticeable, at least to me.
Starting junior forward Josh Hart provides a full range of services on the basketball court. He defends, hits, dribbles, and passes, all skills performed with an above-average basketball IQ. These traits are adaptive and valuable to all 30 NBA franchises — which could lead Hart to play the rest of the season in a different jersey, given the 2023-24 player option. We’ve already discussed that ad nauseam.
The only thing Hart doesn’t do well is put the ball into the hoop from behind the arc. His numbers are down in 2022-23, both in tries and actions.
Trials are what brings us here today. Hart takes a career low 2.0 triples per game and makes a career low 32.6 percent of them. It’s notable when compared to his two-and-a-half seasons with the New Orleans Pelicans, where he had 4.4 triples per contest and hit 33.4 percent of them. He also put up 3.6 triples a game in his two years with the Los Angeles Lakers, and made 36.1 percent of them.
Unlike previous seasons, all of Hart’s 23 triples over the past three months have been assisted, mostly caught and shot (1.8 of 2.0 of his three shot attempts in a game). This indicates that he is unlikely to have a defender in the face at catch-up time, which we discuss further.
But while he only takes the 2.0 three times a match, he gets a more open look from long range. He just doesn’t shoot them. This trend led to one of the most noticeable Portland blunders we’ve seen this season – Josh Hart passes an open triple, dribbles in the paint either with a dropped shot or the ball goes to the other team. rotation.
It started out as embarrassing-worthy but now gets real infuriating, especially when we’re talking about a player of his stature, someone we know who can do what needs to be done from a distance.
Where does Hart take his shots?
For the purposes of today’s article, we’ll compare the 47 games he played with the 2020-21 New Orleans Pelicans (his last full season with that franchise) to the 43 games he played with the Blazers this season. Yes, Hart was mostly off the bench in 2020-21, but he was getting minutes at the rookie level and a diet of picks that shouldn’t be too different from what is currently expected of him.
For much of the 2020-21 season, Hart has shot 52 percent of his shots (not including heights) from behind the arc, good enough for the 58th percentile for all wingers. A total of 3.8 of his 4.1 attempts are caught and shot. Defenders got two and four feet within just 0.3 of those 4.1 attempts.
During that year, Hart took 12 percent of his shots from middle range, hitting 46 percent of them—good enough for the 86th percentile in his position.
The remainder (36 per cent) was taken at the rim, with 63 per cent passing through the net – an average of 55 per cent for the wings.
See Hart’s shot chart below, darker orange areas show more shots.
Fast forward to the present day. So far this season, 26 percent of Hart’s shots (not including lifting) have been taken from three, the seventh percentage among wingers. He has halved the number of shots taken from three over the past two years. To provide some perspective, during his more than four years in the league prior to his arrival in Portland, Hart rarely shot less than 40 percent of his shots from that range.
Yes, the Pelicans and the Lakers before that have implemented different offensive schemes, but for someone who was previously as comfortable behind the arc as Hart, this season has been nothing short of baffling to watch.
Most importantly, he did not see a defender guarding him two feet away. The closest they got was between two and four feet away and that was on just 0.1 of 2.0 tries per match. And while that obviously doesn’t reflect the hat-trick being passed, I think it’s safe to say, opponents don’t give Hart the same defensive treatment as teammates Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simmons.
The natural response to this would be, “Well, the treble isn’t great, but it sure works well in the midrange?”. sorry but no. This season, Hart has shot 26 percent of his shots (up from 2020 to 21) from middle range, but has only hit 33 percent of them, putting him at a dismal 18 percent for players in his position.
On the contrary, his shots took advantage of the edge. He takes 52 percent of his shots to the basket (98 percent position) and makes 68 percent of them, (78 percent position) which is good.
For an eye test, even the most casual basketball observer will note the current 6’5 vet’s tendency to catch the ball behind the arc, fake a pump or lateral move, and then slide into the paint. From here he shoots into the middle range, or runs into a teammate, which usually results in a rushing shot or a spin.
Don’t get me wrong, some mid-range jumpers who are over three-turned can be effective, but it’s not the best way to support this offense, which is currently already full of turnovers.
And that’s the problem. The 27-year-old records a career high in turnovers in regards to his usage. He returns the ball to the opposition 15.7 percent of the time, and is currently sixth in the percentage of protecting the ball in the wing position, behind only Denny Avdeja, Margoun Beauchamp, Dyson Daniels, Frank Ntilikina and Davon Reid.
I’m not suggesting that all of his transformations happen during the hunt and catch. Hart also plays in a facility role, bringing the ball to the ground and starting offense at times, but his use this season is on par with the rest of his career — about 13 percent.
For more perspective, let’s go back to the 2020-21 season, when Hart carried a utilization rate of 13.5 percent and was turning the ball over just 11.4 percent of the time.
In 43 games this season, Hart has already collected 72, compared to the 49 he scored in the 47 games through 2020-21. That’s 23 more turnovers in four fewer games.
Why is this happening?
I don’t know.
For anyone watching the Blazers’ losses to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday and the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday, opposing defenses have redeemed Hart’s long-range shooting sensitivity. They were backing him off, spacing Damian Lillard and Infernie Simmons trying to get to the edge.
We know Hart can shoot. Let’s not forget his game-winning buzzer batter against Florida’s Miami Heat in November.
Let’s also remember that in the 13 games played with the Blazers after the February deal last season, Hart knocked out 2.4 of his 6.4 three-point attempts, which is good enough for an impressive 37 percent. This included his 44-point performance against his hometown Washington Wizards on March 12, when he drilled 6-of-9 from long range on what became an impressive Blazers “tank attempt” victory.
At least according to coach Chauncey Billups, Hart’s reluctance to shoot is with depth, not the team’s direction. Earlier this month, the trainer spoke about Hart’s penchant for the death of three.
Chauncey Billups, asked if Josh Hart was too reluctant to film: “Yes.”
– Shawn Hikin (highkin) January 15, 2023
“Yeah we’ve talked about it… he misses trying to be so selfless but hopefully he starts shooting her more.” – Billups on Josh Hart misses open shots
– Danny Marang (@DannyMarang) January 15, 2023
Being unselfish is a good thing, but when you’re usually a decent long-range gunner, and you miss shots wide open, it doesn’t help anyone, especially the Blazers who are currently struggling.
I appreciate Josh Hart. I enjoy his talent on the rebound, his ability to get to the edge, his relentless efforts on defense and loose balls. But I also want him to hit three. This team needs him to hit threes, not only to put points on the board, but also to lure opposing defenses out of the paint.
Whether it’s a lack of confidence, unselfishness, or a combination of the two, it’s just not cool. But I also have no doubt that eventually Hart rediscovered his love for the long-range shot. Unfortunately, with the two-and-a-half week trade deadline approaching, there’s a chance he never finds it again while wearing a Portland jersey.