What to make of Rockets rookie center Isaiah Hartenstein?

I’m struggling with what I should make of Rockets rookie center Isaiah Hartenstein. I thought he was terrible until I saw today that he leads the team in net rating at +26.0. There’s really nothing he seems able to do at a high level based on the eye test. He’s not particularly quick or athletic, doesn’t have range or post up skills, doesn’t have good hands, and is really clumsy. He spends a lot of time on the floor after falling down. I highlighted his defensive struggles some weeks before, particularly after getting switched onto speedy guards on the perimeter. That part was probably to be expected – not everyone is a rookie Clint Capela sticking with Steph Curry in the Western Conference Finals.

But Hartenstein is clearly doing something positive because the numbers don’t lie. It’s probably his energy. Or its something else I’d notice if I had the time or inclination to go back and review film. (I don’t.) And so he’s going to be the backup ‘5’ for the time being.

With Jimmy Butler in Philadelphia, Gary Clark here to stay, and Michael Carter-Williams banished to the bench, its safe to say the rotation is looking pretty set. I felt like the biggest remaining hole was backup ‘5’ where I thought Carmelo Anthony could have found a niche if he stayed a Rocket. (He probably won’t.) On the one hand, it’s fun to see young players develop over the course of a season. On the other hand, despite the 5-7 start, the Rockets are still a team with championship aspirations and are already integrating one rookie into a major role. My gut tells me they’ll be looking for a vet to take some of those minutes.

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redninetyfourdavidtxTom Kirkendall Recent comment authors
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Tom Kirkendall
Tom Kirkendall

Seems a tad harsh. Hartenstein is only 20, moves reasonably well, has a nice shooting touch, and appears to be well-motivated to improve. I agree that he is best suited for the third center role at this time, but my sense is that his ceiling is high. His main problem at this time appears to be adjusting to the speed of the NBA game, which is likely to improve with experience.


I enjoy seeing him on the floor. From what I’ve observed, his speed has increased, his defense has gotten much better, and he presents a strong presence that definitely helps. Now, if the entire team could find a way to work together – at least half as effectively as last year – we’d have a much better shot at being competitive. I understand cold streaks, but losing by 20+ points, more than once, is discouraging to players and fans.


I was dead wrong.


He’s gotten better.

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