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Thanks to an NCAA rule change this season, underclassmen are allowed to declare early for the NBA draft, go through the evaluation process and then choose to go pro or return to school (if they haven’t signed with an agent). From now until May 25, which is decision day, SI will periodically weigh in on the most interesting decisions left to be made.
Season Review: Josh Hart went from sixth man to leading man and helped his Villanova Wildcats win their first national championship since 1985. In his junior year, Hart averaged 15.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game while maintaining an offensive efficiency rating of 117.7. The Wildcats were able to cut down the nets at the end of the year thanks in no small part to Hart’s emergence as a star.
The Case for College: If Hart enjoyed the sensation of holding scissors at the top of a ladder and cutting off snippets of net, he should consider returning. Although Duke will be the popular pick to win the 2017 title, they’ll be relying primarily on prodigiously talented but unproven freshmen. Villanova, on the other hand, will return everyone except seniors Ryan Arciadacono and Daniel Ochefu. And coach Jay Wright has proved that his system excels in plugging in players without experiencing significant drop-offs.
Despite Hart’s success this season, he is still considered a really good college basketball player—rather than a potential NBA player—by many scouts. In fact, he hasn’t been included in any of the mock drafts we cross-reference for these posts. If Hart comes back for another season, he’ll move from being an X-factor to becoming the top player on every opponent’s scouting report. If Hart can handle the increased pressure and also improve his performance, he could move his way into the high second round or even the late first round.
The Case for the NBA: Scouts seem to have two main issues with Hart. The first is his height, and the second is that he’s a ‘tweener. Obviously, there’s nothing he can do about the first issue. Returning to Villanova will make Wildcats fans happier, but it won’t make Hart any taller. As for the second issue, there’s no reason to think that he’ll help himself out by returning.
Last season, Hart primarily played the 2- and the 3-guard spots, but he defended every position other than 5. Next year, the Wildcats will not have a 6'11" center on the roster, and so there’s a possibility that Hart will have to play power forward in small-ball situations. Although managing that task will demonstrate his toughness and versatility, it won’t help NBA scouts evaluate him because he isn’t big enough to play that position for any NBA team. It might be more valuable for Hart to get onto a roster—if he can—and start developing the skills of a traditional 2-guard with an NBA team that sees his long-term potential.
Big Board rankings: SI (top 30 only): Unranked; DraftExpress: No. 73; NBAdraft.net: No. 83
Final verdict: The guess here is that Hart will return to Villanova. Without the certainty of even being a second-round pick, another run at a national championship could be more appealing than the D-League or playing overseas.