Trade deadline acquisition Josh Hart is expected to make his New York Knicks debut Saturday night at the Garden.
And no one is more excited than Jalen Brunson, who won a national title at Villanova with Hart in 2016.
“I’m very excited, and obviously, I’ve known him for a long time,” Brunson said after Friday night’s loss in Philadelphia. “I just know that he’s one of those players who will give his all every time.”
Hart could have given the Knicks a lift Friday night as they collapsed in the second half, with Tyrese Maxey and James Harden leading Philadelphia’s rally.
New York coach Tom Thibodeau thinks highly of Hart, whom he called the best rebounding guard in the league when he grabbed a career-high 19 boards against the Knicks in November.
It is unclear where will Thibodeau get the minutes for Hart, who averaged 33.4 minutes in 51 games this season for Portland.
But Brunson believes the do-it-all Hart will adjust whatever role Thibodeau will give him.
“I think with [Hart], he has a mindset of whatever the team needs, he can fill that,” Brunson said. “It’s always been like that since the day I met him, and he’s gotten better and better at it each year. He’s just a competitor and he’s the guy that wants to win and do whatever it takes to win.”
After averaging 19.9 points in 13 games after the Trail Blazers acquired him as part of the CJ McCollum trade last year, Hart adjusted when Damian Lillard returned healthy this season.
For whatever reason, Hart has given up shooting a lot of 3s, hitting a career-low 30.4 percent on 2.2 attempts this season after a 37.3 percent clip on 6.4 attempts upon his arrival in Portland last year.
In New York, if he replaces Quentin Grimes in the starting lineup, Hart’s shot diet will decrease significantly behind Brunson, Julius Randle, and RJ Barrett. If he comes off the Knicks bench, he’ll have more offensive load alongside Immanuel Quickley.
“He’s a tough-minded guy, and he won’t back down from a challenge,” Brunson said of Hart. That’s just how he is, and that’s how he’s been, and I’m not worried at all he’s going to fit in just perfectly.”
Hart is expected to play a crucial role with the Knicks for the stretch run. Following Friday night’s loss, the Knicks are 1.5 games back from the sixth-seed Miami Heat and 1.5 games ahead of the eighth-seed Atlanta Hawks.
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