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Giving Isaiah Hartenstein the recognition he deserves

How the turn tables.

NBA: New York Knicks at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

While Josh Hart has come in and immediately stole the hearts (no pun intended) of all Knicks fans with his tenacious defense, contagious energy, and elite rebounding, the same could not be said about the original Hart, Isaiah Hartenstein.

Coming from the Clippers as a free agent, many were incredibly high on the young center’s ability to give the Knicks a different look off the bench. Hartenstein, known for his playmaking off of dribble handoffs and ability to knock down the occasional 3-pointer, seemed like an offensive weapon the Knicks hadn’t been able to deploy from the center position. That, along with his solid defense, had fans incredibly excited about the prospect of him coming off the bench for a Knicks team looking to strengthen its frontcourt depth.

Sadly, things got off to a rocky start for the 2017 second-round pick. Hartenstein rarely made a 3-pointer, looked lost on defense, and had trouble securing defensive rebounds consistently. Through his first 48 games in a Knicks jersey, he managed to average just 4.9 PPG on 48.5% from the field, 24.2% from three on 0.7 attempts per game, and 3.3 DRPG in 18.4 MPG, and had a plus/minus of -5. Now, to be fair, some of that was the way he was utilized. As a Clipper, he was often used in either dribble handoffs, where his passing skills could shine, or in the dunker position, which maximized his great offensive rebounding abilities. But once Hartenstein came over to New York, coach Tom Thibodeau primarily used Hartenstein as a pick-and-roll player, something Hartenstein could do but didn’t necessarily excel at. What the Knicks and their fans got was about four months of subpar play.

But instead of complaining about his role or blaming his play on the way he was used, Hartenstein owned up to his shortcomings, took responsibility, and continued to adjust. In his last 25 games (since January 24th), Hartenstein is averaging 4.7PPG on 59.1% from the field, 5.2DRPG, .8BPG, and an absurd +/- of +172. During that crucial span, which notably included the Knicks’ nine-game winning streak, Hartenstein has ditched the 3-point shot, become a better defensive rebounder, and has improved significantly on the defensive end. And it all came at a very crucial time. One in which the team relied on him heavily with the starting center, Mitchell Robinson, out with an injury.

Although Hartenstein remained a reserve while Robinson was sidelined, he seemed to have figured it all out as things started to click, and he became a crucial part of the Knicks’ recipe for winning. One that included crashing the boards and being physical. Now, even with Robinson back in the fold, we have seen Hartenstein’s minutes and role continue to increase to the point that he’s even closed out a few games.

This isn’t to say that Hartenstein is better than Robinson or should be the one to start. Robinson, in his own right, is an incredibly significant piece for the Knicks. But Hartenstein deserves credit and recognition for keeping his head high, continuing to put in the work, and going from a disappointing and frustrating player to a reliable backup center who has done a very admirable job of defending the likes of Anthony David and Nikola Jokic lately. With Hartenstein continuing to play better and better as the season goes on, hopefully he can continue to provide that magic come playoff time.