Cavs: It’s early, but there’s been positive signs from Isaiah Hartenstein

The Cleveland Cavaliers weren’t involved in exactly a blockbuster trade near this year’s deadline last week when they dealt JaVale McGee to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for Isaiah Hartenstein and two future second-round picks. Cleveland was able to generate a $4.2 million trade exception from McGee, too, as a side note.

McGee, while he was productive for the Cavs in his half season with them, was able to net Cleveland three future second-round picks for taking him on via original trade acquisition from the Los Angeles Lakers. And with the Cavaliers’ current outlook, for a 33-year-old backup 5, that wasn’t surprising.

In relation to Hartenstein, he is a player that didn’t have much meaningful burn in his first two seasons with the Houston Rockets, and was waived last summer by them. Hartenstein did have some more of a role playing in some relief of Nikola Jokic with the Nuggets pre-deadline, though.

Albeit the now-22-year-old, who previously signed a two-year deal with Denver before this season, with the second year being a $1.8 million player option for next season, still played pretty sparingly with Denver, that being 9.1 minutes per appearance in 30 appearances. He had 3.5 points and 2.8 rebounds per outing in those games.

But Hartenstein did show some encouraging signs with the Nuggets, and for Cleveland, the Cavs could have another young contributor here that could, realistically, be a viable backup 5 for Jarrett Allen in normal circumstances.

It’s early, but there’s been positive signs from the new Cavs big in Hartenstein.

Okay, so it’s been just two games we’ve seen from Hartenstein. So my foot is ready to tap the brake, if you will.

Hartenstein has shown positive signs for Cleveland in his burn, though. Of course, you take it with a grain of salt from Monday’s drubbing at the hands of the league-best Utah Jazz, and Rudy Gobert did admittedly give him trouble.

But Hartenstein did hit a three-point look in that one on a pick-and-pop, and he did show some flashes in his G League burn previously with the Rockets’ G League Affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. He was a standout for them, and was actually the 2019 G League Finals MVP, too, for added context; so Hartenstein could have some untapped potential, perhaps.

Additionally, in that Jazz game, he did have seven assists. It was again a blowout loss, and I’m not discounting that, but Hartenstein did show some other promising flashes as a passer with Denver this season. And perhaps the Jokic influence could have rubbed off with him a bit, which could benefit guys like Collin Sexton, Isaac Okoro and/or others, looking onward.

From there, while fouling issues have played into the lack of burn for Hartenstein in his NBA career to this point, he is at least a player that could fill in as a big presence inside in reserve run in relief of Allen, ideally.

Hartenstein, who had five fouls versus Utah and five again in a rough Cavs loss on Thursday versus the Philadelphia 76ers in 20 minutes, has fouled a ton, to be clear, and he has a career rate of 7.4 fouls per-36 minutes. So that is a key point of emphasis for him moving forward.

For a rotational contributor, more so, though, the 7-footer still is a presence in there typically, and has at least had 2.5 blocks per-36 minutes this season overall. He did show some of that rim protection capability in Cleveland’s L to Philly as well, as he did have two blocks, which was good to see.

He had 12 points and seven boards in that one, too, which was a plus.

Moreover, with Hartenstein, he is still fairly raw overall, and one would not say he’s a floor spacing presence at this point, in a general sense, and again, defensively, the fouling is a glaring issue. And on-ball, you’d like to see him make decisions a bit quicker on the other end.

All of that said, he could potentially be a real contributor that Cleveland could maybe look to have stick around. We’ll have to see in regards to the player option, of course, and if he performs reasonably well the rest of this season, maybe he’ll look for a somewhat better deal.

For now, while it’s super early, though, Hartenstein has at least shown encouraging signs for the Cavs. He is still a really young player, too, so maybe with more legitimate burn he can steadily improve/get more comfortable.