Last season with the Clippers, center Isaiah Hartenstein served as a play-maker in the middle, averaging 4.7 assists per 36 minutes. According to Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News, the Knicks sold Hartenstein on playing a similar role in New York when he joined the team in the offseason as a free agent.
However, so far this fall, Hartenstein is handing out a career-low 1.2 assists per 36 minutes and averaging just 0.8 seconds per touch (as opposed to 2.06 seconds per touch last season). The big man acknowledged on Wednesday that he has been asked to play more like a traditional center with the Knicks.
“It’s adjusting to a different role where it’s playing more like (the Knicks’ other centers), I guess. Not more of what I’m used to,” Hartenstein said. “That’s been a little more difficult. And so I’m just adjusting to more of a Mitch (Robinson) role, where I’m just rolling into the pick-and-roll.”
As Bondy relays, Hartenstein reiterated multiple times during his media session that he’s fine with making the adjustment, but said it has been a challenge and has required some extra film work to get comfortable.
It doesn’t help that the 24-year-old has been dealing with an inflamed Achilles tendon since the summer and still only feels “about 80 percent.” Hartenstein believes the issue is hindering his athleticism and may be having an impact on his defense and rebounding, according to Bondy.
“I feel like I’m a little slower than I normally am,” he said. “Little slower to get up to defend the shots where I normally am able to do really good.”
When Robinson missed some time this month due to a knee injury, third-string center Jericho Sims entered the rotation and had some strong performances. With Robinson back, all three centers have played at least 13 minutes apiece in each of the Knicks’ past two games, but Bondy says head coach Tom Thibodeau typically prefers to use just two centers in his rotation, especially if he wants to try to get Julius Randle and Obi Toppin some minutes together.
Hartenstein, who signed a two-year, $16MM contract and has appeared in every game so far this season, may not end up being the odd man out, but he said he’s willing to accept a reduced role if the team wants to lean more on its traditional centers or use a two-power-forward look.
“I know what I can do,” Hartenstein said. “It’s now just doing whatever I can do in the role that’s given to me. I have a lot of respect for Jericho and Mitch. So if that’s what coach thinks is the best thing to do – if coach thinks it’s best to go with Julius and Obi, then do that. I’m just here to help the team win at the end of the day and if coach thinks that way, or if coach thinks that way. I’m ready to do that.”