The Cleveland Cavaliers have not had the likes of Larry Nance Jr. in their past four games because of illness, but when he’s in there for them, it’s been well-established that he is a quality passing big that gets others involved.
His vision and passing execution/timing for a natural forward generates good looks for other guys consistently, and he’s had 3.3 assists per contest this season. That’s aided Cleveland in instances when he’s started a bunch in replacement of Kevin Love, whose been sidelined for most of this season due to complications/soreness involved with a right calf strain.
Love has been active in the Cavs’ past three games, though, which has aided other guys, along with the spacing boom he provides with his shooting capabilities. And while there’s been some unfortunate turnovers, some of that has had to do with rust.
Of course, Matthew Dellavedova having made his return (concussion complications/appendectomy) has been a plus from a ball movement standpoint, too, and though he is a non-scorer at this point, he still has tremendous vision. That I’d imagine should ease the burden a bit on Darius Garland for spurts the rest of the way, if Dellavedova can stay mostly healthy.
Circling back to big man secondary playmaking, though, one thing that’s jumped out lately is how Isaiah Hartenstein appears to be capable in that way in some respects, too.
Hartenstein looks to be another Cavs big that can legitimately help as a passer in his burn.
Hartenstein, who was a recent trade acquisition from the Denver Nuggets, has admittedly gotten significantly more burn early on here with Jarrett Allen (concussion) having been sidelined. The 22-year-old has made an impact in his opportunities, though.
In 22.6 minutes per outing in his first four appearances with Cleveland, Hartenstein’s averaged 10.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks.
He didn’t have much run in meaningful games in his first two seasons with the Houston Rockets, at least with them, and with the Nuggets this season, filled in some, but not a bunch, with Nikola Jokic there.
He appeared in 9.5 minutes per outing in 30 said appearances with Denver leading into the deadline, for further context, but only appeared in 28 and 23 games with Houston prior to this season. He was waived by the Rockets last summer, and signed with the Nuggets before this season via two-year, minimum deal, with the second season upcoming being a $1.8 million player option, for what it’s worth.
Albeit, Hartenstein has shown flashes when he’s been given meaningful chances, and with the Cavs, has been productive as a finisher inside and/or with push shots, and defensively, has rebounded well, and provided some rotational rim protection. Fouling is still a real problem for the youngster, though; but inexperience likely has some to do with that, and I can’t grill him for it, really.
And the passing element has been a very promising development from Hartenstein, too, as was noted. A seven-assist game at the Utah Jazz, even in a blowout L, helped the splits, but three assists in a W at the San Antonio Spurs was notable, as has been 4.4 assists per-36 minutes, overall, for Hartenstein with Cleveland. It’s early, though.
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I know that Hartenstein is not necessarily going to be Love or Nance-like in that regard, but he has been productive in his timing passing out of doubles, which has aided shooters.
Hartenstein’s feel for occasionally finding ball reversals after offensive rebounds has been a positive as well.
The same passing awareness has been the case at times for cutters a bit when those chances have presented themselves, which has been a plus, too. And initially, with Isaiah showing he can put the ball on the floor a bit against opposing bigs, he’s been able to hit heady looks to guys looking to go inside.
That’s something he was able to do at times, even with occasional pocket passes/feeds to baseline cutters in his burn with the Rockets’ G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, paired with the dishes out of doubles.
Hartenstein averaged 3.7 assists in burn with the Vipers in 2018-19, to go with 19.4 points, 14.9 boards and 2.0 blocks per outing, for further context, and was actually the G League Finals MVP in 2019.
So regarding the passing element, there’s been signs of that capability before, and while he’s definitely having extended burn sans Allen in the immediate term, it’s been nice to see the young big show he can aid Cleveland as a passing big in his run, too. Coupled with that, he’s had just 0.8 turnovers per-36 early on with the Cavs.
Moreover, as KJG’s Mack Perry alluded to, if he keeps showing he can be a viable rotational piece, with the flashes he’s shown and touch/defensive impact, the Cavs might want to keep him around in coming years. That’s seemingly via team-friendly deal, though, and we’ll have to see if he chooses to test his market this upcoming offseason, which could play out, anyhow.
But Hartenstein would seem to be a quality backup 5 for Allen (assuming Jarrett is eventually locked up long-term this summer), that could have some notable potential.