Knicks’ Isaiah Hartenstein showing his value in increased role


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It was a fairly meaningless put-back for Isaiah Hartenstein at the 11:01 mark of the second quarter on Saturday, the kind of play you instantly forget in the course of a 48-minute basketball game.

If it hadn’t been Hartenstein’s first points in a week, that is.

The 7-footer’s lack of scoring is not to diminish his impact on the Knicks, with whom he has carved out a valuable spot in the rotation.

Hartenstein has made an impact on the defensive end and on the glass — in the two games when he failed to score, he put up double-digit rebounds, and in Saturday’s 116-110 win over Denver, he finished with nine boards and six points.

Hartenstein has morphed his game to help out the Knicks as they enter the final stretch of the regular season.
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

“I think it’s just doing whatever the team needs,” Hartenstein said Friday. “I think you look at everyone in the NBA, everyone once in their life was a top scorer on a team. I think I saw a podcast yesterday with Paul George, [Patrick Beverley] was averaging 40 in high school. So it’s like, at the end of the day, we’re all NBA players but you have to find your niche. Find whatever the team needs at that point.”

Hartenstein’s niche with the Knicks, who can count on scoring output from Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett, is to make himself valuable in less noticeable ways.

Right now, he’s filling it.

Isaiah Hartenstein of the New York Knicks handles the ball against the Portland Trailblazers.
The center has carved out a valuable spot within the Knicks’ rotation.
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

On Saturday, he was matched up against Nikola Jokic for large stretches of the game and, though the MVP candidate finished with 24 points, Hartenstein managed to keep himself from being overwhelmed.

“I don’t know if it’s a change as much as he’s processed everything,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I think he’s a lot more comfortable. When a player comes in and he’s new, he’s adjusting to a new system and new teammates. So it takes a little bit of time.”

When Mitchell Robinson was out with a fractured thumb, Thibodeau said, it gave Hartenstein an opportunity to play himself into a bigger role and get more comfortable.

The result is that, since Robinson has returned, the minutes split between him and Hartenstein has been more even as the latter’s role has indeed expanded.

“Whether he scores 10 points, 15 points, he rebounds, he defends, gets his hands on plays and deflections and stuff like that,” Randle said. “Sets screens, really good screens. He just does a lot of little things for us that help us win.”

Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards is no longer in a walking boot and will be evaluated on a day-to-day basis, according to The Athletic. If Edwards returns against the Knicks on Monday, he will have missed just one game after suffering an ankle sprain on Friday.

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