Although we are only three games into the season, Isaiah Hartenstein has been more involved than big-money man Mitchell Robinson.
The Knicks invested a good amount of capital this offseason in the center position, re-signing Mitchell Robinson to a four-year, $60-million contract as well as inking journeyman Isaiah Hartenstein to a two-year, $16-million deal. Both Robinson and Hartenstein have ideal size for their position, both standing at 7 feet and around 250 pounds, but have vastly different skill sets, which is why Leon Rose believed that having both on the roster could work harmoniously.
Robinson, as we all know, is a shot-blocking, rim-running center who does most of his damage offensively with dunks and doesn’t offer much else in terms of a repertoire. Hartenstein, on the other hand, doesn’t excel defensively or athletically as much as Robinson but is able to rebound almost as well and can stretch the floor, shooting a career 36.5% from behind the arc, per ESPN Stats.
Hart-beat of the Knicks
Through three games, Hartenstein has bested Robinson in minutes (80 versus 66), total points (29 versus 26), and total rebounds (28 versus 13), per ESPN Stats. Although this is a small sample size, it is surprising to see the disparity in statistics between these two, especially since Mitch was supposed to be the one getting more burn.
To be fair, Robinson hasn’t been bad by any stretch, but there is a chance that Tom Thibodeau views Hartenstein as a better fit than Robinson in most cases. The team’s main point guards, Jalen Brunson and Derrick Rose, both like to take it to the hole to facilitate, rather than settle for long-range jumpers, as that is not their strength. Additionally, with Julius Randle looking to get out of the ill-advised jump shot business and get to the rim more, Hartenstein being a perimeter threat draws the defenses out, allowing the aforementioned players to break down a defense and score or distribute, as we can see below.
Mitchell Robinson, being more of a stationery piece in the half-court offense and a big body, does not draw the defense out of the paint like a stretch center does and could disrupt the flow of the offense at times.
🌹 ➡️ Hartenstein➡️👌👌 pic.twitter.com/eZkyWwwW3M
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) October 22, 2022
Mitch on Notice?
It is worth noting that traditional centers, like Robinson, are becoming more and more obsolete in today’s NBA and there was mixed reaction to the Robinson contract, given this direction. Also, Robinson has struggled with body control throughout his career, and foul trouble really hampered him in his debut against Steven Adams and the Grizzlies, limiting him to 13 minutes. If he keeps fouling, he won’t play, which opens the door wider and wider for Hartenstein to continue to take his minutes, even if he isn’t the defensive stopper that Mitch is.
I don’t believe we will see Mitchell Robinson completely phased out, because of the nature of his contract and the fact that he is so good defensively. The Knicks looked very vulnerable against Memphis in terms of interior defense, exploiting Robinson’s absence with Ja Morant, an aggressive rim attacker.
Robinson’s skillset isn’t something to write home about, but interior defense and athleticism on both ends are still paramount, and there are few better than a healthy Mitch in these departments. Robinson’s availability is something to keep an eye on throughout the season, whether it be for health reasons or foul trouble, as there is now a capable backup, ready to play, unlike in previous years with the old, ineffective Taj Gibson, the clumsy Nerlens Noel and the raw Jericho Sims.