Isaiah Hartenstein won the G-League Finals MVP last season for leading the Rio Grande Valley Vipers to their third championship, and many hoped that could be a springboard to bigger and better things this year with the Rockets.
The seven-footer is just 21 years old and has shown some possible long-term potential in his time in H-town so far. The Rockets do think very highly of him, often referring to Hart as “Clint Capela-lite”, and it was thought he would be competing for backup center minutes this year behind Capela. And he did come into camp noticeably thicker and stronger than last season.
But Hartenstein’s future is a little bit murky now. The Rockets brought in veteran big man Tyson Chandler to soak up some minutes at center and bring some added size, rebounding, pick-and-roll capability, and veteran leadership to the squad. So despite what the team has been saying publicly about Hartenstein, their actions in bringing in a vet to play over their own home-grown seven-footer means they’re not yet ready to trust the youngster.
On top of that, the team also brought back veteran big Nene, though it’s up in the air right now how much he will actually play, as Christian laid out in his piece earlier this week.
Hartenstein has played sparingly this preseason, with just 19 minutes combined court time in both games, and he also committed 5 fouls in 12 minutes against the Los Angeles Clippers, which is often an issue with young bigs.
Hartenstein does have ability off the pick-and-roll and has started developing a legitimate three-point shot in the G-League, so if he can get that to carry over to the Association, he has a shot for court time. But the quickest way to get better is by playing, and with the Rockets in the middle of a tight championship contention window, they may not feel they have the luxury of letting Hart learn on the job.
His contract is partially guaranteed this season, so he’s likely not going anywhere, though he’ll probably spend some time in the G-League again. But his contract is not guaranteed for next season, so all bets are off after this year.
I’d love to see him come around in H-town, though. He’s big, he’s skilled, and he’s still at an age where he could still technically be in college, so it’s not yet time to give up, despite him not developing quite as quickly as the team maybe would’ve hoped.
He’s slated for backup duty, but an injury to Capela or Chandler likely springs Hartenstein into action. We’ll be keeping an eye on him.