SCOTT HARRISON | SPECIAL TO THE MONITOR
One of the reasons for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers successful season has been the contributions of Isaiah Hartenstein, who has been recognized as an All-NBA G-League Second Team selection.
“He is still very young at only 20 years old, so his potential remains to be completely tapped at this point in my opinion,” Vipers coach Joseph Blair said.” He’s a hard worker, determined, he wants to get better, loves the game and being around it so I think he can still get much better. I am happy to be a part of his success and be around him while he finds success.”
The award was based on regular season statistics as Hartenstein played and started 26 games for the Vipers. He averaged 19.5 points, 14.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.0 blocks over 32 minutes per game.
Blair felt the reason for those numbers were the result of the 7-foot, 249-pound center being able to adapt to the RGV style of offense. He was the 43rd overall pick in the second round of the Houston Rockets in the 2017 NBA Draft.
“He’s great at rebounding and really hard to get off the glass,” Blair said. “His 3-point shot can improve but that’s something we took away from him a little bit,”
This season, Hartenstein has also appeared in 28 games for the Rockets, who are affiliated with the Vipers, where he totaled 1.9 points and 1.7 boards per contest. He feels all this travel can sometimes be a hassle; he was assigned to the Vipers nine times between December and the end of March.
“It’s a thing you have got to get use to and at first I kind of struggled with it, especially the flying back and forth,” Hartenstein said. “Going down here and playing all the time helped my confidence, which was the biggest thing, and stay in shape. I think the Rockets did a good job of finding a balance of keeping up here but also giving me the opportunity to play.”
Hartenstein was a professional player in Germany and Lithuania as a teenager. He also was honored as the G-League Player of the Month in January so that is why he might be a little anxious to make the permanent move to the NBA.
“This year, I think I have shown I really don’t belong down here but I am always happy to be around the guys down here.” Hartenstein said. “Just get better and better is what I do. I shoot after games and do all the little stuff to get better.”
Hartenstein started four games for Houston in the 2018 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas where he averaged 10.3 points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes per game. He also played for the Rockets in the 2017 NBA Summer League.
“We like Isaiah (Hartenstein) and he has a good future,” said Rockets head coach Mike D’ Antoni. “He’ll have to have some good summers and keep working on his game, but he put up good numbers with the Vipers and we like him.”
Hartenstein played 38 games for the Vipers during 2017-18 when he averaged 9.5 points and 6.6 rebounds in almost 19 minutes of action. He feels his numbers improved this year by playing better in the system.
“Catching lobs more, I think I got more athletic, shooting the three better and just in general all the little stuff,” Hartenstein said. “But the biggest thing is just catching the lobs since last year it really wasn’t so much a part of my game, but now it’s one of the biggest.”
Rockets starting center Clint Capela has been a mentor for Hartenstein. Capela, the former Viper and a native of Switzerland, was on the sidelines for 15 games, prior to the NBA All-Star break, with a right thumb injury and Hartenstein was on the Houston roster for part of that time.
“Whenever I have questions, he helps me because we both had the same kind of path,” Hartenstein said. “Come up from Europe, play in the G-League and someday I want to be in the same world he is in.”
Hartenstein’s father, Florian, played basketball at Oregon and later professionally in Germany. The younger Hartenstein was born in Oregon but moved to Germany with his family at age 11.
A right Achilles soreness sidelined Hartenstein for the second half of the Vipers home game with Stockton on March 8 plus the next eight Rockets games but he’s back on the court and just waiting to see what his role will be for the Rockets in the playoffs.
“This year, we have three big guys in front of me so we’ll see what happens,” Hartenstein said. “Next year I will have to prove I deserve the backup role and then we’ll see from there. Next summer will be a big summer. I’ll work a lot and prove I deserve that role.”