The Los Angeles Lakers have not begun the 2018-2019 season as they would have liked and Brandon Ingram’s emergence has been delayed by four games, but there are a few bright spots to take away. The most significant positive one is the emergence of second-year player Josh Hart. His development so far has been tremendous and is what we expected to see out of Ingram from the start.

Hart was the 30th overall pick during the 2017 NBA Draft, and each game he plays, the more silly he makes teams look for passing over him. Along with Kyle Kuzma, the Los Angeles Lakers have the two biggest steals from that draft class, and both have become vital pieces in the Lakers’ future.

We saw it from the start of last season with Kuzma, but it took longer for Hart because he did not get the same opportunity at the beginning of the year. But, as the season went on, and injuries hit, Luke Walton gave Hart a more prominent role, and the rookie started to deliver.

As a rookie, the shooting guard averaged 7.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.3 assists in 23.2 minutes, while shooting 46.9% from the field and an excellent 39.6% from three-point range. But those numbers go up when you look at his 23 starts or 11 games after the All-Star Break.

In his starts, Hart averaged 31.9 minutes and put up 13.3 points, six rebounds, and two assists while shooting 49.6% from the field, 42.4% from long distance, and posting a +11 overall rating on the court. His per-36 numbers go up to 15 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.3 assists. And after the All-Star Break, he averaged 15.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, and two assists in just over 33 minutes of play while shooting 47.2% from the field and 39.3% from three.

He continued to prove that he can hang in this league and could be a legitimate starter. He was already a stout and physical defender on the wing, and arguably the Lakers’ best overall defender last season. Hart was starting to show off the offensive game that he displayed in college, especially his shooting ability.

After his impressive end to last season, Hart was starting to get included in the Lakers “talented young core” that already included Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Lonzo Ball. But he was still viewed as a potential role player at best, perhaps off the bench. But his hot start to the season has shown he can be much more than that.

This season, Hart has been a force, averaging 17 points and 6.3 rebounds on 53.8% from the field while draining eight of 17 three-pointers (47.1%), throught the season’s first three games. He has an excellent 64.3% effective field goal percentage thus far.

And all three games have come against the Portland Trailblazers, Houston Rockets, and San Antonio Spurs. Three playoff teams from last season. He’s emerged as the Lakers best player behind LeBron James, and even if they struggle to win, it’s a promising sign.

He is a good defender and a physical one as that. He came out of college physically mature (because that’s what four years in college will help with) and is built well, but at 209 pounds you argue that he could still grow more into his 6’5 frame. And as he continues to do so, it will help his versatility to be able to switch off onto stronger defenders.

He is already the Lakers best perimeter defender and best shooter, so his value to the team is essential. Hart may not be a star or ever become one, but the 23-year-old has the makings of a high-quality NBA starter. Another young asset that the Lakers could, but shouldn’t use in a potential trade for a star.

Hart is the type of players that championship teams need and have: can shoot, can defend, plays off the ball, does all the dirty work, and excellent for team chemistry. And it’s getting to the point that the sophomore needs to be starting over Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Pope is only 25 years old, but on a one-year deal again. Hart is playing better and a vital part of the Lakers’ future. He needs to start and continue to see his role expanded. Pope is averaging 4.7 points on a terrible 30% effective field goal percentage, and it’s hurting the team.

The Lakers don’t need to continue to play him to appease LeBron James because James is locked in for four seasons. They need to do what’s best for the team and start Hart. He’s growing up in front of our very own eyes and needs to be rewarded.