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Isaiah Hartenstein has a strong case as Rockets’ primary backup

Despite an injury causing him to miss the final few games of the NBA Summer League, Isaiah Hartenstein made a strong case to become the primary backup center for the Rockets next season. 

2019 Las Vegas Summer League - Sacramento Kings v Houston Rockets Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

During the Houston Rockets’ 94-92 victory over the Sacramento Kings, Isaiah Hartenstein injured his right ankle on a three-point field goal attempt and left the game in a wheelchair late in the third quarter. After the game, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reported that Hartenstein sustained a sprained ankle and will miss the remainder of the NBA Summer League.

As the Rockets most efficient and best player of the tournament, Hartenstein’s injury was a bitter end to one of the most compelling performances of the summer.

He averaged 16.0 points on 47 percent shooting from the field, but his play on defense is what made his performance worth while. Hartenstein did a nice job taking care of the paint, averaging 8.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, and he showcased his quick hands on the defensive end by recording 1.7 steals per across three games.

After a strong outing in Las Vegas, Hartenstein’s goal of becoming a full-time member in Houston’s rotation next season is looking like a possibility. And with the Rockets in need of a backup center to Clint Capela, Houston could look to turn Hartenstein’s goal into a reality.

After Nene declined his player option to become a free agent, Hartenstein may be the best backup big man, with little to no valuable players left on the market for the Rockets to sign. Sure, there are rumors that Houston has expressed interest in Tyson Chandler, but at 36-years old, it is unsure how much the former Defensive Player of the Year has left in the tank.

Filled with rookies, journeymen, and overseas players, the NBA Summer League might be the lowest level of competition for the league. So in a way, one could speculate that was the reason for Hartenstein’s exceptional play. However, when looking at what he showcased earlier in the year with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, this is not the first time Hartenstein showed promised as a full-time NBA player.

This past season, he spent the majority of the 2019 season with the Rockets G-League team, averaging 19.4 points, 14.9 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks in 26 games. While helping Rio Grande Valley capture the best record in the league, Hartenstein elevated his game in the playoffs, averaging 24.0 points and 15.2 rebounds, as the Vipers went on to win the G-League championship, and he was awarded Finals MVP honors.

So in addition to his play in Vegas, Hartenstein has proven that his potential to become a solid NBA player is no fluke when the level of competition rises. If the Rockets were to make him their full-time backup, Houston would be adding a big who could add some much-needed depth to their second unit.

Standing 7’0” tall, Hartenstein should have more of an impact than that of Nene, due to his offensive presence and ability to spread the floor a bit. And while playing within Mike D’Antoni’s three-point system, Hartenstein does has the capability to hit shots from the outside, as he shot 34.3 percent from deep during the 2017-18 G-League season and 46.9 percent from three in the 2018-2019 G-League playoffs.

Last year, the Rockets got a small taste of what Hartenstein has to offer on the NBA level, as he averaged 1.9 points and 1.7 rebounds in 28 games. Of course, he did not have eye-popping numbers when looking back at his 2019 season, but keep in mind Hartenstein did not have a real chance to prove himself, averaging just 7.9 minutes per game.

However, when he was on the floor for the Rockets, Hartenstein made the most of his opportunity. One of his best games came in a 107-86 victory over the Golden State Warriors, where he recorded six points and five rebounds in just 15 minutes of play and helped spearhead Houston’s bench attack.

As of now, the severity surrounding Hartenstein’s sprained right ankle has not been determined, but he should be fully healthy by the start of training camp in September.

From a G-League Finals MVP with the Vipers to an extraordinary Summer League audition, over the past six months, Isaiah Hartenstein has earned his place as a rotational player for the Houston Rockets.