Cavs: This must be point of emphasis for Isaiah Hartenstein

Cleveland Cavaliers big Isaiah Hartenstein reacts in-game. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
Cleveland Cavaliers big Isaiah Hartenstein reacts in-game. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images) /

While it was reported/rumored that Isaiah Hartenstein was set to be targeted by Spanish club Barcelona as a potential free agency target, and that he’d have an “NBA out,” it’s apparent that Hartenstein could very well be back with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Hartenstein, who is likely to opt out of his $1.8 million player option, based on his promising play post-trade deadline for Cleveland pre-concussion absence, would prefer to be back with the Cavs. That’s per a report from Chris Fedor of, and Fedor stated that Hartenstein/his agent are seeking a “more lucrative” deal.

Hartenstein did not have much meaningful playing time in his first two seasons at the NBA level with the Houston Rockets, and while he did have some of a role with the Denver Nuggets this past season pre-deadline after signing there last offseason, it still wasn’t much. Hartenstein did show plenty of potential with Houston’s G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, though, and ended up winning the 2019 G League Finals MVP.

But even with Denver after having been waived by Houston last offseason, he still didn’t have much playing time game-to-game, and was mostly a spot minutes guy playing 9.1 minutes per outing, in which he had 3.5 points and 2.8 rebounds per contest. Albeit that wasn’t shocking, with 2021 NBA MVP Nikola Jokic in front of him.

Fortunately for Hartenstein, he ended up demonstrating what he can do when given his share of minutes, as post-deadline with the Cavaliers after having been acquired along with two second-round picks in exchange for JaVale McGee, he did a nice job.

The 23-year-old had 8.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.2 blocks in 17.9 minutes per outing in 16 appearances for the Cavs post-deadline before missing most of Cleveland’s ending batch of games due to that aforementioned concussion.

Hartenstein turned out to look like quite the pickup by Cleveland, and per Fedor, is looking to re-sign/stick around as Jarrett Allen‘s backup. Allen is set to be a restricted free agent this offseason, but it seems extremely likely that he’ll be locked up by the Cavaliers, who acquired him via trade from the Brooklyn Nets back in January.

Needless to say, it would appear that Hartenstein could very well be back too, and I could foresee via say, two-year deal for $4-5 million per season. He still hasn’t had much meaningful NBA action yet, objectively.

But as we alluded to, particularly as a backup 5, he looks to be a quality piece for the Cavaliers to have around, and assuming he’s back, should be a solid backup 5 option for spurts/stretches.

He’s a good finisher on the interior via occasional low-post looks and as a roller/lob threat/cutter, cleans the glass, screens well and is a true shot altering/blocking presence on defense. His secondary playmaking was also a bright spot to me as well, and I don’t discount that.

Albeit in fairness, one thing does need to be stressed to Hartenstein looking onward and heading into next season, in the event he’s back: trimming down his fouling.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Hartenstein trimming down his fouls must be a key point of emphasis from here.

Putting it simply, from my perspective, Hartenstein trimming down his fouls must be a crucial point of emphasis for him moving forward, seemingly with Cleveland.

With the Cavaliers post-deadline, he had 5.6 fouls per-36 minutes, and has had 6.9 per-36 minutes for his career in NBA play to this point. He’ll need to cut down on his whistles from here, and must show progress in relation to contesting interior looks competently without fouling nearly as much in his time on the floor.

Now, Hartenstein projects to mostly be a backup 5, and could at times fill in as a spot starter, for example, if Allen is banged up on occasion; he did so twice when Allen missed time with a concussion. Point being, he won’t be starting minutes regularly, one wouldn’t think.

But for Isaiah, just in general, it is clear that he fouls can pile up in a hurry for him, and while he is a legitimate rim protector, and I want him to be deterring interior looks from opponents, it would be great to see him progress in regards to trimming down his fouls game-to-game.

Allen, even with it not showing as much post-concussion it seemed, is still an impact rim protector when he’s healthy/fully himself, and we’ve seen that.

With that being the case though, he’s still not been a player that’s fouled much comparatively in his career, whether it’s been as a bench contributor or starter. That’s as evidenced by him only having had 2.9 fouls per-36 minutes for his career thus far.

And although Hartenstein has had more blocks per-36 of 2.9, as compared to Allen’s of 1.9, and a block rate of 5.4 to Allen’s of 4.4 percent for their careers to this point, Allen has still typically contested interior shots well.

So considering that, I do think that maybe Hartenstein could aid Allen in timing up blocks as a rotator a bit, and maybe Allen could help Hartenstein in regards to preventing some fouls from occurring.

In any case, for Hartenstein, just in an overall sense, while I don’t think it’s necessarily a huge issue, particularly for a reserve 5, a number of fouls registered to him had not been smart ones to take. In turn, there were times when it somewhat counteracted his impact in other ways.

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More experience for him should help of course, but either way, the young big needs to trim those fouls down; I’m sure that’s been relayed to him plenty, though.