Isaiah Hartenstein might not post impressive statlines or highlight reel-worthy plays but his impact on this Knicks team is unmistakable. 

The Knicks have gotten off a bit of an inauspicious start to this season, dropping three of their first five games. Disappointing beginnings have been something of a theme the last few seasons, with a 10-13 start last year and also to begin the 2020-’21 season. As we know, the Knicks went on to make the playoffs in both of those seasons, so this shouldn’t be too much of a concern yet.

Beyond the Box Score

Naturally, a lot of the focus during this early season is the play and impact of the cornerstone guys; Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, and R.J. Barrett, and rightfully so. These are guys expected to fill out the box score with good to great stats and are paid to put up numbers, rather than bringing solely intangibles.

Integral to winning though, beyond stars, is having guys who bring energy and hustle to the table, and one of those responsible is 25-year-old backup center Isaiah Hartenstein. I-Hart inked a two-year/$16 million contract during the Summer of 2022 and if you watch the games, is clearly one of the most intense and industrious players on the roster, perfectly embodying the New York ethos.

At a career output of 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, per ESPN Stats, Hartenstein’s statistical production is minimal. However, despite his underwhelming numbers, I-Hart is one of the most underrated cogs in the Knicks machine running smoothly.

After a tough bucket or defensive stand, Hartenstein is always roaring to his teammates and/or the crowd, hyping them up in a way we don’t usually see from many more understated Knicks players. One moment on opening night, albeit a loss, I-Hart was willing to get in the mix in a key fourth-quarter possession, going nose-first for the ball and taking an elbow from Jaylen Brown.

Hart At Work

In a small sample size, the Knicks’ two wins this season coincide with the center’s two highest-scoring outputs; eight against the Hawks and 13 against the Cavs, per ESPN Stats. Unpacking this a bit further, Hartenstein last season averaged nearly two more rebounds per game in the Knicks’ wins, as opposed to losses, per ESPN Stats. His scoring output was relatively the same, but so far in his Knicks tenure, the more Hartenstein is around the ball, especially in the game to grab boards, the more effective the Knicks have been.

Defensively, Hartenstein has posted his best defensive rating in his career, per Stat Muse, and in my opinion, is becoming the frontcourt version of Josh Hart, who deservedly gets a lot of love.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean that the Knicks should run the offense through I-Hart, or assign him defensively to the opposing team’s star each night, but the value he provides in terms of doing the little things and bringing the energy is why he and Mitchell Robinson complement each other well and were able to outshine the Cavs in the playoff last season and also on Tuesday night, in a 109-91 victory in which young centers Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen looked small.

Season Outlook

I think Hartenstein definitely deserves more credit than he’s been getting and I believe an increased role could and should be in the cards. Aside from his rebounding numbers, Mitchell Robinson has not had a great beginning to the season, shooting by far a career-low 48% and posting a career-low 6.2 points per game, per ESPN Stats.

While I like Robinson, he sometimes looked checked out and lethargic, which is the antithesis of Hartenstein, who has given equal point production and energy this season. Also, injuries are always a concern with Mitch, who was only healthy for 59 games last year, as opposed to the full 82 for I-Hart. Mitch definitely has more ability, especially defensively, and is compensated more than Hartenstein, but don’t be surprised if we see a diminished role for Mitch result in an increase of minutes for Hartenstein, if these trends continue.

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