At around the same time last year, Josh Hart had three straight 20-point games to start his chapter with the Portland Trail Blazers, starting with a 23-point gem against the New York Knicks.
One year later, Hart is now doing it for the Knicks.
The 27-year-old guard, acquired by the Knicks at the trade deadline to bolster their bench, is off to another electric start.
But the circumstances are different.
When Hart arrived in Portland, the Trail Blazers were without Damian Lillard, and Jerami Grant was still the main guy at Detroit.
His shot diet dramatically changed — from a 37.3 percent clip on 6.4 attempts to a career-low 30.4 percent on 2.2 attempts — with Lillard and Grant around to begin the season. But it did not dissuade the Knicks from ponying up a lottery-protected first-round pick on top of unwanted player Cam Reddish and two end-of-the-bench players Ryan Arcidiacono and Svi Mykhailiuk.
A fresh start with familiar faces — former Villanova teammate Jalen Brunson and Knicks president Leon Rose, his former agent — and coach Tom Thibodeau, who’s been a fan of his game since college, Hart is off to another strong start with his new team.
“I gotta give the credit to my teammates, the coaching the staff, and the front office. They welcomed me with open arms,” Hart said, “and it’s full of great people great, great high character people. So I’m able to just fit in.”
“Thibs system on offense is built on making reads, and everyone’s able to play. And that’s the biggest thing.”
Unlike in Portland where Hart had to help carry the offensive load without their top players, he’s flourishing in New York as an energizer off the bench.
Hart has hit 6 of 9 3s, a remarkable 66.7 percent clip, over his first two games as a Knick.
Thibodeau, Hart’s sixth coach in six years, has given Hart the license to shoot.
He hit 2 of 3 against the Utah Jazz on his Knicks debut. Then he doubled it during Monday night’s win that snapped a nine-game losing skid against the Brooklyn Nets, who boasted several versatile wing defenders.
“It’s taken a little while to get used to, but it’s definitely a green light. It’s not something that I had before, and I’m not mad about it. I wasn’t frustrated about it. It was just the style that we had in Portland. So now I come here and [Thibodeau] is giving me the ability to make plays, to do ball screens, get dribble handoffs and like you said, just have the ultimate green light, so it gives me that confidence. So now those catch-and-shoot shots are more in rhythm.”
His numbers across the board — 19.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 2.5 steals — aren’t enough to encapsulate what Hart has brought to the table to the Knicks. And the fans are loving every single Hart minutes on the floor.
“It hits a little different doing it at MSG,” Hart said.
“It has been amazing. This is the MSG. This is the Mecca. The air is different out there. The New York fans are amazing. They’re behind us 100%. They’re loud. They bring it every day. But man, it’s been amazing. [It’s] Even better that we got the win.”
The Knicks are now 2-0 since Hart’s team debut.
His grittiness and court smarts have drawn comparison to one of Thibodeau’s favorite players, Jimmy Butler.
“Watching Jimmy [Butler] in college and the things he did at Marquette, Josh [Hart] reminded me of that with the things he did at Villanova,” Thibodeau said. “There’s something about them. I think those types of players give your team heart and toughness. And that goes a long way.”
While Hart isn’t on the same tier as the sixth-time All-Star Butler, he definitely checks all the boxes of a Thibodeau type of player.
That’s already worth more than Reddish, a tantalizing former lottery prospect whose motor has been inconsistent and an unknown draft prospect unlikely to fit in the Knicks’ current timeline.
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