The Rio Grande Valley Vipers won their third G-League title last week, downing the Long Island Nets in three games, and the victory was highlighted by the play of occasional Houston Rockets center, Isaiah Hartenstein, who was named G-League Finals MVP for his dominating performance.
For the series, Hartenstein averaged 28 points, 15.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.6 blocked shots on 51 percent shooting from the field. The big man even showcased a part of his game that should endear him to the Houston coaching staff and front office, knocking down 13 three pointers in the series, including going a ridiculous 8-9 from beyond the arc in a 33-point, 13-rebound, 2-block tour de force in Game 2 that turned around the series for the Vipers.
He then followed that up with a 33-points, 17-rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks performance in a 129-112 win in Game 3 that clinched the title for the Vipers in which he hit 2 more three-pointers. Hartenstein shot 13-25 for 52 percent from three overall in the series.
G-League teammate Michael Frazier had this to say about Hartenstein’s play:
“That dude is going to be a beast. He’s a rising star. He’s going to be an incredible player. You see how he can be dominant now, but it’s going to be scary to see where he is in two or three years.”
On the year in Rio Grande Valley, Hartenstein played in 26 games, averaging 19.4 points, 14.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 2.0 blocks on 62.2 percent shooting from the field, which was a massive improvement from his first year in the G-League. Last season, he averaged 9.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 1.1 blocks on 61 percent shooting.
Hartenstein also spent some time with the Rockets this year, seeing action in 28 games, but averaging just 8 mins per game. Consequently, he had low averages of just 1.9 points and 1.7 rebounds per game, but the organization thinks highly of him, and they’ve talked up Hartenstein publicly on numerous occasions, and after his performance in the G-League Finals, it’s easy to see why.
He’s been referred to as “Capela-lite” by the Rockets, bringing the height, shot-blocking, and potential off of the pick-and-roll. But now that he’s been working on his three-point shooting, that’s an added dimension to his game that Capela doesn’t have.
I fully expect to see more of Hartenstein in Rockets red next season. It remains to be seen what happens with the 36-year-old Nene (37 in September). The Brazilian big man is signed through 2020, but he’s been less effective this year despite his value as a veteran locker room presence. Does he stick around? Retire? Traded?
And Kenneth Faried signed a vet minimum deal with Houston, meaning he’ll be a free agent at season’s end.
Even if Nene does return, his diminished workload means there could be a plethora of backup center minutes available for Hartenstein, and if he keeps playing the way he did in the G-League Finals, expect the just soon-to-be 21-year-old to take full advantage of the opportunity.