Former Portland Trail Blazers player is thriving in the playoff spotlight

While the trade made sense for both parties, watching this ex-Blazers player excel in this year's NBA playoffs is bittersweet.
May 8, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Josh Hart (3) celebrates in the fourth quarter
May 8, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Josh Hart (3) celebrates in the fourth quarter / Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Currently up 3-2 in their series against the Indiana Pacers, the New York Knicks are on the brink of making the Eastern Conference Finals. It would be the first time they have reached the Conference Finals since 2000, ironically when they faced the Pacers amid their Reggie Miller-era rivalry. 

Jalen Brunson deserves his flowers, as they wouldn't be in this position without his NBA superstar-level emergence. But another critical cog in their success this season is former Portland Trail Blazers guard Josh Hart. So far, in the 11 postseason games, Hart has increased his productivity in every aspect. He's averaging 15.8 points, 12.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game on 46/41/71 shooting splits.

Of course, the fact that he's averaging 43.6 minutes per game inflates the stats a bit, but how he has played so efficiently while doing so makes it even more impressive. Hart is putting up shooting splits of 46/41/71 so far in the playoffs, and his biggest three came in Game 6 of the first round against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Hart plays with seemingly endless energy and tenacity, which is ideal given the increased playoff physicality. It doesn't matter if he has seven points; Hart finds a way to contribute positively and play winning basketball, whether taking on a tough defensive assignment or securing double-digit rebounds to maximize possessions.

A 6-foot-4 guard shouldn't be averaging anywhere near 12 rebounds a game in the playoffs, but Hart has an uncanny knack for consistently being in the right place. It's as if he has a basketball magnet in his upside-down headband. Recently, someone asked Hart where he gets his energy source. His secret wasn't a magnet, but it was another unexpected answer.

Watching Hart be such a key contributor on a contending team is bittersweet for many Blazers fans, even though he had a relatively up-and-down stint in Portland. Hart was acquired at the trade deadline during the 2021-22 season from the New Orleans Pelicans as part of the CJ McCollum trade.

In the 13 games he played with the Blazers to close out that season, Hart had one of the best stretches of his career, averaging 19.9 points per game and connecting on 37.3 percent of his threes. The following 2022-23 season, Hart was limited to 51 games, primarily due to an ankle injury. He regressed that season, averaging only 9.5 points and shooting a career-worst 30.4 percent from three. 

Then, the Blazers traded Hart to the Knicks. In exchange, Portland acquired Cam Reddish, Ryan Arcidiacono, Svi Mykhailiuk, and a protected first-round pick (last year's No. 23 overall draft pick, which turned into Kris Murray).

The trade made sense for both parties. From Portland's perspective, although Hart is an ideal complementary piece, he isn't a "needle mover." The Blazers finished the 2022-23 season with a 33-49 record. Not only was it clear they didn't have enough firepower to contend, but Hart would also likely opt out of his player option if the Blazers kept him.

It was instantly apparent that Hart found the perfect landing spot with the "Nova Knicks." Hart's relentless style of play embodies New York and head coach Tom Thibodeau's system. It was an excellent addition, giving the Knicks a more rigid team identity.

The Knicks' brand of basketball has prevailed so far throughout the playoffs as they continue to find various ways to win games, no matter what that entails. That's the Josh Hart style of basketball rubbing off on New York.