EDINBURG — Isaiah Hartenstein is dominant once again for the RGV Vipers, maybe more than ever.
The Vipers are winning again, currently riding a season-best three-game win streak and looking to extend it to four at 7 tonight against the Iowa Wolves at Bert Ogden Arena.
While it’s not a scientific study where one can say with a certain surety that one (Hartenstein’s play) is responsible for the other (the Vipers’ win streak), the causality in human eyes is evident.
Hartenstein, a Houston Rockets assignee, was named the NBA G League Player of the Week on Monday. The 7-foot center averaged 30.5 points and 20.0 rebounds in two wins last week. He also had six blocks between the two games.
His performance was at the same level as when he led the Vipers to their third NBA G League championship last year.
But for Hartenstein, that’s the problem — he’s back at the same minor league level. He’s shown his ability to take over a game, doing so against Northern Arizona on Saturday, taking command on the floor and showing his strength, time and again driving the lane and either getting fouled or making the basket. He scored 34 points and pulled down 19 rebounds. He also shot 67% from the floor.
He was, without question, a dominant presence. The battle he faces now, however, is that his NBA team, the Houston Rockets, have made extreme moves and are now playing small ball. They have no center and don’t plan to play with a center.
That’s why Hartenstein is back with the Vipers, needing to prove once again, that he belongs at the top level.
“I’m just working on stuff down here,” Hartenstein said. “I’m not a G League player, and I know I’m supposed to be in the NBA. It’s unfortunate to be in a situation where they (the Rockets) are playing small ball and stuff, so I’m down here working on stuff.
“(Head coach) Mahmoud (Abdelfattah) sat down with me and said he wanted to work on my driving to the basket. To me, every game down here is a scrimmage, so I’m just here to work and get better on stuff.”
In the playoffs, last year, Hartenstein showed his range with several 3-pointers in the championship series against the Long Island Nets. This season, while he has taken some 3-pointers, he is looking to power his way to the basket first.
“Be yourself, be who you are, don’t try to do what you can’t do,” Abdelfattah, the first-year Vipers coach, said that he told Hartenstein. “He’s a talented player, we all know that. He’s so physical if he’s able to attack the basket under control, I think that’s something he can add to his game. He’s so good at finishing at the rim and finishing with contact.
“He’s just got to continue to be aggressive and play with confidence,” Abdelfattah said.
The night before the big game against Northern Arizona, Hartenstein registered 27 points, 21 rebounds and three blocked shots. He was 13-for-15 from the field.
“We’re playing better defense and playing overall better as a team,” Hartenstein said. “We’ve won three in a row and I think we can get a few more.”
The Vipers have three home games this week. They play at 7 tonight against Iowa, at 7:30 p.m. Friday against Capital City and again at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against Salt Lake City.