While the Houston Rockets have gone small, young center Isaiah Hartenstein found himself without much playing time with the big boys. As a result, he was sent down to Houston’s G-League affiliate in Rio Grande Valley to continue getting playing time.
And as the Rockets were struggling through an 0-4 week that included losses to the lowly New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets, and Orlando Magic, Hartenstein was tearing up the G-League, leading the Vipers to a 3-0 week while averaging a ridiculous 30.5 points, 20 rebounds, and 3 blocks, and capping it off with a G-League Player of the Week award.
Isaiah Hartenstein was named @nbagleague Player of the Week after averaging 30.5 points and 20 rebounds and 3 blocks per game— Adam Spolane (@AdamSpolane) March 9, 2020
The former G-League Finals MVP had several breakout games for the Rockets this season, going for 17 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 blocks in a January 11 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves, and he also went for 16 points, 12 boards, and a block in just 18 minutes of action in a December 31 win over the Denver Nuggets. We all thought we were about to see more of him.
But as the Rockets have pledged to go small, Hart’s played in just five games since January 18, and even with Clint Capela no longer in the picture, he’s been unable to even see spot minutes off the bench for particular matchups.
No, head coach Mike D’Antoni has fully embraced the Pocket Rockets philosophy, for better or worse, and that’s left Houston’s promising young big out in the cold, despite the fact that it appears James Harden misses having a lob threat around.
The danger of an easy lob to Capela was one of the facets of Houston’s offense that helped make Harden’s drives so dangerous, and without that around, he’s had a a more difficult time finishing inside. While he seems to be slowly making the adjustment to a lob-free life, I still believe the Rockets could benefit from 10-15 minutes a night from Hartenstein just to re-establish that threat.
The short amount court time wouldn’t take too much away from Houston’s small-ball approach that’s benefiting Russell Westbrook, would theoretically help The Beard as lob threat, and could give Hartenstein some much-needed playing time with the varsity, even in a limited capacity. You never know when you might need to break the glass on a reserve player come playoff time, and Hartenstein is athletic enough to play if needed and not fully jeopardize the Rockets’ new philosophy.
The Rockets do have an upcoming decision on Hart. While his contract was fully guaranteed for this season back in January, he’s currently non-guaranteed for next year, and the team will need to decide by June 30 if they’re going to bring him back into the fold.
If they’re simply not going to play him no matter what, it makes no sense to bring him back, though a lot of that may depend on whether Mike D’Antoni returns next season.