Can Ray Spalding be the Rockets’ next Isaiah Hartenstein?

Ray Spalding of the Dallas Mavericks (Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images)
Ray Spalding of the Dallas Mavericks (Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images) /

When ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski announced that the Houston Rockets had signed Ray Spalding to a two-way contract, the move, while surprising to some, went fairly under the radar. After all, this wasn’t exactly like when the Rockets signed Kenneth Faried, who had been a prominent name around the league by the time he was signed in 2019.

This move was more reminiscent of when the Rockets signed Isaiah Hartenstein to the roster, as both players had a much more similar path, joining the NBA as second-round picks and having to prove their worth in the G-League. Hartenstein was wildly successful, as he became an All-G-League selection and led the Rio Grande Vipers to a G-League title, becoming the Finals MVP.

Hartenstein never could get the necessary playing time with the Rockets, as former Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni didn’t exactly see the value in playing promising, up-and-coming prospects who were on team-friendly contracts. Hartenstein churned out 16-rebound performances and even posted a gaudy statline of 17 points, 15 rebounds, 5 blocks, and 2 steals on January 11th of last season but was eventually released, later signing with the Denver Nuggets.

Can Ray Spalding be the Houston Rockets’ next Isaiah Hartenstein?

Spalding is in a much different situation than Hartenstein was, as the Rockets had the microball strategy in mind, making Hartenstein a casualty, as his 7-foot frame didn’t exactly mesh with the approach. Spalding is joining the Rockets at a time when budding star Christian Wood is out for an extended amount of time, leaving them with just Boogie Cousins to play the center position.

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The 6-foot-10 Spalding was a defensive anchor at Louisville, ranking fifth in steals and seventh in blocks during his only year as a starter, while also averaging 12.3 points and 8.7 rebounds. In the G-League, Spalding has shown promise, averaging 15.9 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks as a rookie in 2018-19, followed by 13.9 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 2.2 assists last season.

With two years under his belt in the G-League, Spalding has gotten off to a wildly impressive start to the 2020-21 season for the Vipers, putting opposing teams on notice.

.@RaySpalding_4 was throwin' down tonight

— NBA G League (@nbagleague) February 11, 2021

Spalding has averaged 18.5 points, 13 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.5 blocks, while making 60 percent of his shots and posting an astronomical 69.1 percent true shooting. Spalding will provide the Rockets with a big man who they could use in the pick-and-roll, which has become non-existent since Christian Wood went down with an injury, as Rockets coach Stephen Silas stated, “We don’t really have the rim running presence without Christian.”

Spalding will have his best opportunity to follow in Hartenstein’s footsteps and prove his value and worth with the Houston Rockets, while also auditioning for a roster spot for the rest of the league if the Rockets aren’t a long-term possibility for him. Both players are comparable to one another, as they are similar in height and age (both are 22 and Spalding is 6-foot-10, while Hartenstein is 7-feet), and both are dominant forces on the glass and are shot blockers, although Hartenstein is better at both.

The Rockets could have signed several other players to fill the void of Wood, but decided to turn to Spalding, in part because of his familiarity with the team and the fact that he wouldn’t have to sit out any time, due to the fact that he’s been in the G-League’s bubble. Spalding and the Rockets both need each other now more than ever before, as the relationship can be mutually beneficial as the Rockets need a big and Spalding needs an opportunity to prove he belongs on an NBA roster.

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Hopefully he’s ready.