Isaiah Hartenstein has played himself into the rotation over the last few games, showing he may be the solution to the Houston Rockets’ backup needs.
The backup center position has taken a backseat in importance over the years, but with load management and injuries both increasing recently, that can’t remain the case. In the case of the Houston Rockets where Clint Capela is playing heavy minutes, there’s always the increased chance for injuries or need for rest for the Swiss big man. Luckily, Isaiah Hartenstein has shown over the last few games that he can step in and bring something the Rockets haven’t had in a long time: an athletic, tall center who can play 25 to 30 minutes if necessary.
The son of Florian Hartenstein, a German basketball coach and former professional basketball player, Isaiah has basketball in his blood. Starting in a youth German league, Hartenstein has worked his way from a fringe NBA player to potentially having a big role off the bench for the Rockets.
Hartenstein showed in his stint for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers that he was one of the best players in the G League, averaging 14.2 points and 6.6 rebounds in two-and-a-half seasons for the team. This year in only six games, he averaged over 21 points and 14 rebounds, showing even more that he was ready for the big leagues.
Isaiah also showed he could dominate in big games, winning the G League Finals MVP in 2018-19 while also leading the Vipers to the championship. With dominance like this, it was just a matter of time before he was a part of Mike D’Antoni‘s rotation.
What Hartenstein brings to the Houston Rockets
Over the last few years, Nene was the backup center the Rockets went to when Capela needed a rest. Early this year it was Tyson Chandler, but given that he’s now in his 19th season, Chandler is more of a leader in the locker room than a long-term solution at center.
Hartenstein had a few opportunities before and at times thrived in a small sample size. With Chandler fighting illness and Capela battling injuries, Hartenstein has shown in the last few games he can step in and provide the Rockets with valuable backup minutes.
In the last three games, Hartenstein has averaged 14.6 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. Granted it’s a small sample size, but even having half those numbers as a backup is a big deal for the Rockets. Hartenstein is a big who can run the floor, block shots and finish alley-oops, much like Capela.
With load management being all the rage these days and Capela’s injury history, having another center who can run the floor and finish at the hoop is huge and prevents Capela from having to play 40 minutes a game.
Mike D’Antoni recently spoke about his confidence in Hartenstein going forward, as Rockets beat writer Michael Shapiro shared:
Mike D’Antoni with some major praise for Isaiah Hartenstein:
“Offensively, he does things nobody can teach. He’s quick in getting picks for James, he’s quick off the ball, relentless on the boards. Just his energy alone makes him valuable.” pic.twitter.com/DURKh2REUD
— Michael Shapiro (@mshap2) January 1, 2020
This is a huge turn of events for D’Antonti, who at times stubbornly likes to play small ball lineups instead of keeping a true center on the court when one is needed. Hartenstein also brings the Rockets length off the bench, which is something they sorely lack.
If Hartenstein can continue his great play, it will give the Rockets the best backup center they have had in a long time. Nene gave good offensive help a few years ago but was never really a shot blocker or someone that played above the rim.
Hartenstein can provide both and has shown what he can do in the NBA if given time.