Our season preview of the 2021-2022 Clippers’ continues with Isaiah Hartenstein, who’s competing for the Clippers’ 3rd big man spot in training camp with Harry Giles.
Weight: 249 pounds
Years in NBA: 3
Key Stats: 5.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 0.8 blocks in 12.2 minutes per game across 46 games played with the Cavs and Nuggets, with 55/33.3/64.8 shooting splits (2 for 6 on threes).
Contract Status: Signed to a one-year non-guaranteed veteran’s minimum as a training camp deal
Copy and paste what I wrote about Harry Giles here on Friday. But really, Hartenstein and Giles are locked in a battle for the Clippers’ 3rd big man spot, which will probably be the last on the roster, and as of now there doesn’t seem to be any indication one as an edge over the other. Whoever makes the roster will be a bench player with some opportunity for real minutes due to Ibaka’s rehab from back injury and his overall age. Outside of that, neither would be expected to be huge parts of the Clippers’ roster barring a major injury to Ibaka or Ivica Zubac.
Oddly, Hartenstein does feel extraordinarily similar to Giles. While Hartenstein is a bit bulkier and slower, albeit sturdier, the two have very similar strengths and weaknesses. Like Giles, Hartenstein’s NBA strength is on the defensive end. While he’s not as nimble as Giles on the perimeter, Hartenstein offers much more of a rim presence, averaging 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes across his career. He’s big, strong, and hard to move out of the way, enabling him to swat away or simply deter shots around the basket. Even with the increased emphasis on switchability and perimeter defense, rim protection is hugely important for big men, and Isaiah offers a lot of it for a third-stringer.
Again, just like Giles, Hartenstein’s greatest plus on offense is as a passer. In 16 games for Cleveland down the stretch of last season, Isaiah averaged 2.5 assists in 17.9 minutes per game. Those would be solid numbers for a point guard, much less a big man. He has great touch on his passes, capable of throwing the ball back out quickly to the perimeter from the post or the pick and roll for open threes. He’s not a good enough scorer you want him to be a hub of your offense, but he can definitely be a spoke on the wheel due to his read-and-react abilities.
Finally, Hartenstein is a strong finisher, shooting 73.3% on shots around the rim last season and 50% on shots from 3-10 feet per basketball reference. His size and strength enable him to finish up and over defenders, as well as muscle them out of the way. While not a tremendous athlete, these qualities do enable him to be a solid roll man, and he can set some pretty crushing screens at times.
Sorry to be so repetitive, but much like Giles, Hartenstein’s weaknesses lie just about everywhere else on offense. He’s consistently rated as a below-average (at best) offensive player, as he doesn’t offer shooting, dynamic above-the-rim play, or much creativity or flash in the post. For a third-string center that’s fine, but outside of the nice passing and screen-setting, it’s best not to expect too much from him on offense.
Defensively, Hartenstein is good but not especially versatile. Considering his size his agility isn’t bad, but he’s not someone who can realistically fit into the “switch-everything” type defense that helped the Clippers get to the Western Conference Finals. Again, that’s not a huge weakness considering Hartenstein’s likely role, and if anything does simplify defensive schemes as he can fit right into what Ivica Zubac normally does defensively.
It’s quite possible that Hartenstein is on the Clippers’ roster for the 2022 season. Even if so, he shouldn’t be expected to play a large role outside of games Serge Ibaka might miss. As a third center, however, he should be more than good enough for the role he would most likely play, and does offer some upside for more. If he does play well, he could even be groomed for the true backup center role going forward, as Serge Ibaka is old and going into the last year of his deal.