The 2017 NBA Draft has been great for the Los Angeles Lakers. Lonzo Ball, with all the criticisms he’s getting because of his scoring deficiency and his family’s off-court theatrics, has steadily turned into a leader Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka expected him to be when they selected him at No.2 in the draft. Kyle Kuzma has also opened everybody’s eyes that he could as well become a major part of the Lakers’ future, putting up big numbers (15.7 PPG and 5.8 RPG) right out the gates.

The terrific performances of Ball and Kuzma keep reminding everyone that the Lakers had an excellent draft in the first go-around of Magic and Pelinka as the franchise’s top decision makers.

And the legacy of that draft class could grow even bigger if Josh Hart, the last pick in the first-round of that same draft, sustains his strong play over the last four games. All of a sudden, the Lakers have another exciting young player who’s showing all the encouraging signs that he can morph into a 3-and-D stud down the road.

Lakers 3-and-D of the future

Coming into the league, Hart might have already realized what would be his niche moving forward. 3-and-D has become a hot commodity in the modern NBA because teams covet players with the ability to knock down the long-ball and defend out there in the perimeter. For Hart, the defense has been his calling card since his college years.

ESPN’s draft expert Joe Bilas raved about Hart’s outstanding defense, rebounding and the knack to finish play in transition.

However, the most overlooked area in Hart’s game during the draft process was his three-point shooting accuracy. In four years at Villanova, Hart shot 38 percent from deep (40 percent during his senior season), which was pretty solid for any starter at the college level.

With the Lakers, Hart only received spot-up minutes through his three months in the league because of the team’s depth in the backcourt.

The Lakers even assigned him to their G-League affiliate, the South Bay Lakers, just to keep his feelings for the game while he’s fighting for position in the team’s third and second unit.

But despite an up-and-down start in his NBA career, Hart never failed to show Luke Walton that he can defend at the highest level. He has always been a hard-nosed defender and that particular skills-set stood out in his defensive match-up with James Harden and recently with LeBron James.

Not backing out from anybody...

Hart’s dedication to his craft finally paid off as Walton began to allocate major minutes for his rookie shooting guard in February. Hart took the opportunity by the horn, chalking up solid numbers (13.5 PPG on 63.3 FG%) in the last four Lakers’ victories, two of which came against the powerhouse Oklahoma City Thunder.

During the stretch, he has shown the versatility at 6-foot-5 to cover at least three positions (point guard, off-guard and small forward) on the defensive end. Hart is also beginning to exhibit what scouts believed one of the strongest selling points in his game – his rebounding ability.

Hart posted three consecutive double-doubles (15 and 14 vs Brooklyn, 14 and 11 vs.

OKC and 15 and 11 vs. Phoenix) and grabbed eight more rebounds in the recent game with OKC. But that’s not the only thing Hart flaunted during his mini-audition run because he has also added a consistent three-point shooting (55.6 3PT% over four games) to his repertoire, making him a 3-and-D player on the rise for the Lakers.

The Ceiling

Unlike one-and-done prospects, the 22-year-old Hart doesn’t have the luxury of time to prove that he can be a long-term impact player. The Lakers would have to find a way to give him more minutes on the floor because major playing time will always be beneficial to any talent’s development.

Calling him a future 3-and-D star is a bit premature at this point, but it’s inevitable to compare him to some established players with the same skills-set like Courtney Lee, Avery Bradley and perhaps Klay Thompson, though he may never be a flat-out shooter as the latter.

Still, Hart’s slow-burn rise from obscurity is something to watch out for over the next 2 to 3 years. He’s on track of becoming a big-time component for the Lakers’ future plan, and hopefully, the arrival of ball-centric Isaiah Thomas won’t ruin the moment he’s building as of late.