Isaiah Hartenstein was released by the Rockets but deserves another look

Isaiah Hartenstein, #55, Houston Rockets, (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Isaiah Hartenstein, #55, Houston Rockets, (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images) /

The Houston Rockets released Isaiah Hartenstein to add a wing for their NBA playoff run. But the talented young center should catch on somewhere.

The Houston Rockets are focused on winning a title this year and they have a plan to do it. At the trade deadline, the shipped out Clint Capela in a deal that brought back Robert Covington basically abandoning any pretense of playing a traditional center and ensuring they’d always have five shooters on the floor.

That plan explains why the Rockets cut 22-year-old center Isaiah Hartenstein to add David Nwaba, a 3-and-D wing. Hartenstein may not have had a place on the Rockets but he’s shown enough since the Rockets took him No. 47 overall in the 2017 NBA Draft to ensure he’ll catch on somewhere else.

Hartenstein, a legit 7-footer, played just under 500 minutes across two seasons with the Rockets. However, he was extremely impressive in steady G League action with Houston’s affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. In nearly 500 minutes this year, he averaged 24.9 points, 14.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks per game, shooting 58.7 percent from the field.

He also started two games for the Rockets and showed that at least some of that G League production could translate to the next level when he was given an opportunity. Hartenstein put up 19 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists against the Pelicans in December, and then followed that up with 17 points, 15 rebounds, 2 steals and 5 blocks against the Timberwolves a few weeks later.

What can Isaiah Hartenstein offer another NBA team?

As an integrated piece of the offense, Hartenstein showed off his length, mobility, touch and bounce, fighting for offensive rebounds, running the floor in transition and finding seams to cut to the basket in the pick-and-roll.

That basic skill set may not give him a lot of opportunities to create in the NBA but he’s at least hinted at some adept passing ability. He has good vision and is capable of pulling off some extremely creative and difficult passes. His outside shot is still very much a work in progress. Across all his G League and NBA minutes, Hartenstein has made just 43-of-154 attempts from beyond the arc (27.9 percent) but it’s clearly something he’s working on integrating into his game.

Defensively, he moves his feet well for his size and gets the most out of his length and quick hands. He’s not going to be helpful switching onto smaller perimeter players but looks like he could do well in a drop pick-and-roll coverage scheme and seemed to have no problem moving with attacking ball-handlers in the middle of the floor.

Again, we’re dealing with a very small NBA sample size but steal and block percentages of 1.6 and 4.2, respectively, are very impressive for a young big man. He still fouls, a lot, but he cut his fouls per minute in the G League by about a third from 2017-18 to last season and in his G League minutes his ratio of steals plus blocks to personal fouls (0.64) was in the same ballpark as Jaren Jackson Jr. (0.56).

At his floor, Hartenstein is a young, mobile 7-footer who looks ready to contribute as a pick-and-roll threat and can also at least hold up on defense. The Rockets didn’t need anyone in that mold, both because they’ve moved away from non-shooters even at the big man positions and because the stakes of their season didn’t leave much room for lavishing developmental minutes on a still raw young player. Even if Hartenstein doesn’t get an opportunity to join a different team heading to the Orlando restart, plenty of rebuilding teams should be eyeing him as a low-cost value add for next year.

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