Cleveland Cavaliers: Isaiah Hartenstein continues to be bright spot

In the past three games after a nice win at the Charlotte Hornets after which the Cleveland Cavaliers appeared to be gaining some momentum, they’ve flopped. The Cavs ended up looking to have gotten back into things in the third quarter versus the Golden State Warriors on Thursday, but then they likely ran out of gas because of Golden State’s pace.

The second leg of a back-to-back in that one didn’t help, either, albeit the Warriors were in the same boat in that way, and Cleveland ended up losing handily in the fourth quarter to Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and company. Two-way wing Juan Toscano-Anderson even had a career night with 20 points in that one.

From there, while there were positives, in relation to Darius Garland, for instance, and how Isaac Okoro played, I thought, the Cavs had a brutal third quarter on Saturday at the Chicago Bulls, and after coming back into it, fell in crunch time. Plus, against a Zach LaVine-less (COVID-19 health and safety protocols) Bulls, that was a rough way to lose.

And then on Monday, another disappointment ended up playing out for Cleveland, as the Cavs ended up going down by a whopping 23 points (no, that’s not a typo) at the Detroit Pistons on Monday in the first quarter.

That was one thing, but while I give Cleveland and Collin Sexton, in particular, credit for climbing their way back right into it in the second half, and even briefly taking a narrow lead in the fourth quarter, that was still a bad loss.

The Pistons, who are a team firmly in the tank, were without their top scorer in emerging star Jerami Grant, a pretty reliable veteran big in Mason Plumlee, a key secondary playmaker, and other veteran contributors. So that was an especially rough L for the Cavs; there’s no other way to put it.

A recent positive for the Cavaliers, aside largely from Garland and Sexton, albeit there was a bit of rust initially after his few-game absence (left groin strain), and I believe Okoro, has been Isaiah Hartenstein.

While there has been disappointment from the squad overall as of late, Hartenstein continues to be a bright spot for the Cavs.

Hartenstein has often been able to make an impact in his burn since being acquired via trade from the Denver Nuggets in exchange for JaVale McGee and two future second-round picks near the league’s March 25 deadline.

He showed flashes previously with the Houston Rockets and with Denver, but didn’t get much meaningful run. With the Cavaliers, though, he’s had a chance to prove himself more, and has taken advantage of that, and has looked to be a player Cleveland should want to keep him around in coming years, frankly.

The 7-footer has had 8.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 19.7 minutes per outing overall in 11 appearances post-deadline, and although Jarrett Allen previously missing eight games did likely play into more of a role for him earlier, he’s made his presence felt. And in the past two games, honestly, Hartenstein has looked better.

Allen might be getting himself right, if you will, in-game due to him previously getting through concussion protocol, though. That’s maybe part of why he’s appeared somewhat timid as an interior finisher in the past two games to me.

Nonetheless, circling back, while the Cavs have had disappointing outcomes in the past three games from a team standpoint, honestly, Hartenstein has been a key bright spot.

In his past six games, he’s reached double-figures in three of those outings, and in 16.6 minutes per outing, has had a healthy 5.3 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and even 1.2 steals per game.

He’s had 2.2 assists per outing in that span as well, and his passing feel/vision has continued to make a difference, too, which has been a very promising development.

His chemistry with guys such as Garland and Kevin Love appears to be building in that regard, and conversely, Hartenstein has shown nice touch as a roller and/or as a cutter and then converted on deliveries from them.

We saw that in his performance at Charlotte (eight points in 13 minutes) and his efforts helped out the Cavs a good deal in Detroit, an outing when he had 13 points on five-of-eight shooting in 20 minutes.

Point being, Hartenstein, who has largely impressed in his time with the Cavaliers since being acquired, continues to be a key bright spot for the Wine and Gold, even with the squad being disappointing in these past three outings, in particular.

Lastly, though, I still wouldn’t anticipate Hartenstein having starts in upcoming games, because admittedly, fouling issues still are a big issue with him. That’s likely led to him rarely being viable in over 20 or so minutes, really.

But for spurts/at times stretches for Cleveland, and hopefully when Allen is fully back to his normal self inside, as he looks to be a key piece moving forward, Hartenstein is still often very effective as a backup 5.

And in that sense, fouling issues aren’t as much of a concern, realistically, as I still want him to be aggressive on the interior as a rim protector/shot alterer/roller/occasional driver.

Albeit 7.0 fouls per-36 minutes for his NBA career thus far and still 5.5 per-36 for Hartenstein is a bunch, and cleaning that up looking onward needs to be a point of emphasis for him.

Either way, though, what Hartenstein, who is not quite yet 23 (Allen turns that on Wednesday) has provided in spurts for the Cavaliers has continued to be a key positive from my perspective.

And while he is set to have a $1.8 million player option for next season, with the way he’s been playing, he could seemingly decline that and look for a better pay day on the open market this upcoming offseason, clearly.

We’ll have to see in regards to what that might be, but it’d be great for the Cavs if they were able to keep him around on a reasonable/team-friendly deal for two or so years, perhaps. Of course, Allen is set to reportedly get a sizable pay day it seems via restricted free agency it appears, though, and Collin Sexton could seemingly get a big-money contract extension, too.

So again, we’ll have to see, but Hartenstein has far exceeded expectations so far for the Cavaliers.