Knicks’ Isaiah Hartenstein reaping the benefits of change in playing style

Isaiah Hartenstein, New York Knicks
Mar 12, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) rebounds the ball against Los Angeles Lakers forward Jarred Vanderbilt (2) in the second half at Crypto.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein has made changes to his game that have him feeling more confident and productive on the court this season.

According to Stefan Bondy of the New York Post, Hartenstein had this to say about the subtle shift he’s made toward getting his teammates open and straying away from finesse play, especially on the offensive end:

“I think that’s a thing a lot of NBA players don’t do. That’s kind of how you whittle down the league,” Hartenstein said. “And for me, that was adjusting it to less of a finesse game and more of getting guys open [with screens], more of just crashing for the rebounds. Whereas before it was more passing, catching it in the pocket, playing off that.”

Hartenstein’s Hard-Nosed Play a Benefit to the Knicks

Hartenstein has thrived as a rim-runner in the pick-and-roll and throughout his Knicks tenure, has been active on the boards on both sides of the floor. However, in the early parts of the 2023-24 campaign, Hartenstein has made it known that the more traditional approach to manning the backup center position benefits the team more.

The Knicks are one of the least active screen-setting teams in the NBA. Since last season, Jalen Brunson’s screen-and-roll partners have ranked in the bottom five in scoring, and from an eye test, pindowns and off-ball screens have been a rarity.

Hartenstein, as well as Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau, spoke on the value that the German center brings to the table in doing the dirty work for the team off the bench. His valued play was on full display in the Knicks’ upset win over the Los Angeles Clippers. Hartenstein’s impact showed up outside of the stat sheet, as he sacrificed his body and put pressure on the Clippers to keep possession alive and vying for second-chance opportunities.

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Do the Knicks Need Floor Spacing From One of Their Centers?

While Hartenstein’s play has been serviceable for the Knicks, by his own admission, the style he’s adopted very closely mirrors that of starter Mitchell Robinson. It also falls in the same boat as third-string center Jericho Sims.

The Knicks have shooting from point guard to power forward but could use an additional outside touch to spread the offense out further. Hartenstein has only taken three shots from three-point range this season, making good on one attempt.

While his muscle has been an added bonus to the team, coach Thibodeau could benefit from deploying Hartenstein beyond the arc in certain situations. The Knicks have 64 more games to try different lineups and offensive schemes, all of which Hartenstein will be an integral piece in.