A year ago, everything was different for Isaiah Hartenstein. He appeared in 28 games, as he averaged 1.9 points and 1.7 rebounds and spent the bulk of the year playing for the Houston Rockets’ G-League affiliate team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
Arguably his best game of the NBA season came in a 107-86 win over the Golden State Warriors, in which he recorded six points and five rebounds in just 15 minutes.
As the calendar flipped to 2020, it is easy to realize how much a person’s life can change in just one year.
During the Rockets win over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, Hartenstein played a significant role in securing a 130-104 New Year’s Eve victory against their Western Conference counterpart. He registered his first career double-double with 16 points (6-8 FG) and 12 rebounds two nights after recording a career-best 19 points (9-11 FG) and nine boards in a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Following the home victory over the Nuggets, head coach Mike D’Antoni announced during his post-game press conference that Hartenstein will be the Rockets’ back-up center moving forward. D’Antoni said Hartenstein is smart, brings great energy and can do things offensively that can’t be taught.
The encouraging words uttered by D’Antoni was a testament to how far the G-League Finals MVP (‘19) has come since he signed with the Rockets during the summer of 2018.
Coach D’Antoni says postgame that Isaiah Hartenstein will be the back-up 5 moving forward. He says Hartenstein is smart, brings a great energy and can do things offensively that can’t be taught.— Cayleigh Griffin (@cayleighgriffin) January 1, 2020
Although he averaged 16.0 points (47% shooting), 8.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks during the Las Vegas Summer League, breaking into the Rockets’ 12-man rotation seemed to be a long-shot for Hartenstein, as Tyson Chandler, P.J. Tucker, Gary Clark and Nene have previously held the backup center role. However, at 21-years-old, the seven-foot big man became a better option for D’Antoni, as he provides the Rockets with more size and athleticism to deepen their depth.
With Clint Capela missing two of the previous three games due to injury, Hartenstein took advantage of the opportunity, averaging 14.6 points on 70.4% shooting from the field, to go along with 11.3 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 20 minutes of play over the last three contests.
As his preseason goal of becoming a full-time member within the Rockets’ rotation becomes a reality, Hartenstein’s recent performance proves to be no fluke. His most recent stretch of games is the second stint he showcased his ability to be a reliable backup center, with his first coming in a 125-105 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves earlier this year; a game that saw the Oregon-born native pull down a career-high 16 rebounds in the win.
Tyson Chandler and Isaiah Hartenstein working out together in practice today. Per D'Antoni, Chandler to start and Hartenstein may get some minutes in the absence of Clint Capela. #Rockets pic.twitter.com/FuiGxa9XuZ— Coty Davis (@CotyDavis_24) November 14, 2019
Although a small sample size of 12 games, the Rockets defense have been statistically better this season with Hartenstein on the floor (103.6 DEFRTG), in comparison to when he is off the court (109.2 DEFRTG).
Even for a team that possesses the second-highest offensive net rating in the league at 114.0, the numbers show the Rockets are statistically a better team with Hartenstein in the lineup (117.4 OFFRTG) versus when he is on the sideline (113.4 OFFRTG).
Isaiah Hartenstein: "I love playing with Russ. He finds me everytime. I try to get him as open as possible, too; so, me playing with him helps a lot. I've watched a lot of Steve(n) Adams and him play on video; so, that helped a lot, too." pic.twitter.com/4N93vZZSf8— Kris M Gardner (@TheHRReview) January 1, 2020
Perhaps Hartenstein’s impact on the offensive end is credited to the amount of spent studying film on Thunder’s big man, Steven Adams, on how to play alongside former Oklahoma City star, Russell Westbrook.
While on the verge to out-earn his partial guarantee contract come Jan. 7, it is safe to say that Daryl Morey and the Rockets have plans to keep Hartenstein around for the foreseeable future.
From averaging less than 10 minutes per game last season (7.9 min) to G-League Finals MVP and earning a place as a full-time rotational player, Isaiah Hartenstein is the perfect example of how much a person’s life can change in one year.