Isaiah Hartenstein has stepped up big-time for the Knicks following Mitchell Robinson’s injury.

When thinking of great bigs that have come and gone from the New York Knicks, I think of tenacious players like Tyson Chandler or All-Star stretch bigs like Kristaps Porzingis. I think of how, despite them starring alongside more attention-grabbing players like Carmelo Anthony or not being able to ever lead their respective Knicks clubs to glory, their impact was undeniable and felt by both fans and their teams. 

I feel that way about the current center room of Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein, who have become one of the more underrated big-men tandems in the NBA with their differing styles but similar results for New York. Robinson is well-known for his rebounding prowess and his ability to protect the rim while Hartenstein stretches the floor a little more with his abilities on offense and playmaking mentality. 

With Robinson potentially out for the season with an ankle injury amidst a record year for him, Hartenstein has had to step up to the plate as the Knicks have been handed a very difficult gauntlet of games, two of which came against the Milwaukee Bucks recently with one of those games on Christmas Day, and against other opponents with dangerous bigs like Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers. 

Despite the loss of Robinson, who is inarguably the Knicks’ anchor on defense and one of their best players period, the Knicks have gone 5-3 since he went down on Dec. 8. Hartenstein is a huge part of why. While his rebounding numbers may not be as flashy as Robinson’s nor his blocked shots, his ability to roll with his man and make life difficult for anyone testing his defense in the paint. He also adds a new dimension to New York’s offense in the starting lineup that has really made the path forward without Robinson seem doable. 

Hartenstein has averaged 11.6 rebounds per game along with 2.4 assists and 9.2 points per game over his last five games, which have mostly come with starters minutes at the five. He’s excelled at being able to box out and set really impenetrable picks for players like Immanuel Quickley and Jalen Brunson (averaging 1.21 points per play as the pick-and-roll setter), and he’s been able to stay on the floor, for the most part, with no foul trouble. That last area might be the last that he has to work on, but otherwise, his hustle and ability to fight for boards have made a lot of folks question, including myself, how in the world he’s just a backup in this league.

Let’s take a look at a few of his best plays and games so far over that stretch as a starter.

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