It's no secret that Isaiah Hartenstein has been one of New York's biggest surprises this season. The Knicks suffered a big blow to their roster when Mitchell Robinson went down with an ankle injury in a game against the Celtics in December. It was later revealed he would need season-ending surgery, making Hartenstein the starting center for the foreseeable future. It's since been reported that Robinson could return.
The career journeyman previously played for the Rockets, Nuggets, Cavaliers, and Clippers before joining the Knicks as a backup in 2022. He had a fine year with the Knicks in 2022-23, perhaps the best of his career up to that point, but at the time of Robinson's injury, there was little expectation that he would pick up where Mitch left off. It's a lot to match the same production from one of the NBA's best defensive bigs.
Hartenstein has done just that.
Isaiah Hartenstein is the Knicks' new defensive anchor
Since December 8, Hartenstein has averaged 11.1 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 1.7 blocks, making himself known in the paint. His total plus-minus has been +159, putting him at an average of +8.8 per game. Since the start of 2024, he's averaged 13.8 rebounds, 2.2 steals, and 2.2 blocks, including a stretch of plus-minus totals of +10, +32, +26 (twice), and +31 in five games.
One of the biggest reasons the German big man from Oregon has been so impactful is because he embraces the "next man up" mentality. He's a tough, scrappy center who embodies that New York underdog mentality. Robinson wasn't necessarily known for his ability to score, nor is Hartenstein. However, if there's one thing they both know, it's how to be a magnet on the glass.
Big performances on big stages for Isaiah Hartenstein
At 7'0", Hartenstein has gone up against some of the NBA's best bigs in Joel Embiid and Rudy Gobert since becoming a starter. In those two games against the 76ers and Timberwolves, IHart recorded five blocks total, one against Embiid and two on Gobert. He encapsulates Tom Thibodeau's defensive-oriented strategy, with the Knicks allowing 102.5 points per game in 2024.
Hartenstein's night to remember thus far has to be January 3 against the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden, where he recorded career-highs of 20 rebounds and five blocks. His career-high in rebounds prior to this night? It came just 17 days earlier against the Lakers, with 17 boards. The man keeps finding ways to show he can be even better in his role.
"Now that I consistently play 30-plus minutes, I feel like I can keep building on it."- Isaiah Hartenstein, via SNY
Isaiah Hartenstein's future with the Knicks
Now that he's proving to be a significant NBA big, there are questions surrounding IHart's free agency decision, which will come this summer.
In 2022, he signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Knicks and is set to become an unrestricted free agent in July. Leon Rose will certainly have a decision on how to distribute money with OG Anunoby looking for a new contract.
The NBA has been going through a shift in offense. Teams are scoring more points because starting lineups now contain four or five players who can space the floor to the three-point line. Hartenstein defies this, embracing the gritty role of a traditional center. If he continues this play with the Knicks, New York will be in good hands when it comes to the paint around playoff time.