On January 1st, the Dallas Mavericks were sitting idly at eighth in the West at 17-18. After the Kristaps Porzingis trade, many seemed to think the Dallas Mavericks were throwing in the towel, sacrificing any hope this year for the future. Fast forward months later the Dallas Mavericks finished the season with the fifth best record in the NBA at 52-30. They then proceeded to turn heads at every corner of their journey throughout the course of the playoffs making a surprise run to the Western Conference Finals. During the course of the series it became abundantly clear that the Mavericks were simply outmatched against teams with depth, especially in the front-court.
Throughout the playoffs the Dallas Mavericks took on three big men, Kevon Looney, Rudy Gobert, and Deandre Ayton, all three of which punished the Mavericks on the glass, grabbing offensive boards for second chance buckets at a high rate. Looney averaged 10.6 rebounds per game, while Gobert grabbed 13.2, and Ayton snagged 8.1. The Warriors out-rebounded the Mavericks by a margin of 11.4 and this played a vital role in the Dallas Mavericks not being able to push the Warriors past a five game series.
Entering the offseason, it became evident that Dallas needed a strong upgrade in the front-court, as the Mavericks playoff run exposed a gaping hole in which the current tandem of Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell couldn’t fill. The Mavericks started to address these concerns already this offseason by trading for Christian Wood. In his last 2 seasons averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds to go with 51% shooting, including 38% from three. Dallas has to like the damage Wood could do, as his cutting prowess and ability to slip screens in the pick and roll should create many easy reads for Luka Doncic and should make defenses pay for traps/doubling Doncic. However, his below average defense suggests he’ll spend more time at the four than the five, a position the Dallas Mavericks need an answer at. Wood is a poor rim protector, and has been known to take plays off on defense.
An answer to the Mavericks’ needs at the five may have just been passed to them by a conference rival who may no longer be able to afford what he’s reportedly commanding on the market: Isaiah Hartenstein. With John Wall expected to sign with the Clippers it looks like he will get the taxpayer MLE, shortly afterward the Clippers secured their starting big man Ivica Zubac to a 3 year 33 million dollar deal with an AAV of 11 million dollars. The most Los Angeles can offer him next season is $2.25 million with a potential to secure a longer contract the following season. At the moment, Dallas does not have the means to sign Hartenstein either, as teams like the Bulls and Orlando are considering offering him their full MLE (mid-level exception), which could push his per year contract past $8 million.
Hartenstein brings size as well as a lot of skills that are coveted in a modern big man. He’s one of the best rim protectors in the league, averaging 3.1 blocks per 100 possessions (9th in the NBA). Hartenstein led the entire NBA in Rim dFG% vs Expected. Players shot 15.01% less than expected against him. Opponents shot just 47.5% against him at the rim, the lowest percentage in the league. The 24-year-old journeymen center averaged 8.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, in just shy of 18 minutes per game.
While his numbers won’t jump out to most in an eye-popping fashion, those who watched Hartenstein play last season know that he does have plenty of juice, high motor, and is the definition of impact. In fact he averaged 1.34 defensive miles per 75 minutes (2nd in the NBA) behind only Jacob Poetl. He’s non-stop energy player who is always on the prowl to get his teammate buckets. Hartenstein has an elite 18.5% assist rate that ranks (92nd percentile among all bigs) in 2022. Hartenstein ranks sixth amongst all centers with an 11.2% adjusted assist-to-pass ratio in 2021-22. His 4.7 assists per 36 minutes was league-leading amongst big men. He excels on finding cutters on backdoor passes constantly.
Hartenstein’s efficiency from the field and potential from the arc make him an intriguing player the Mavericks need to find a way to acquire. Due to players like Nikola Jokic, Karl Anthony Towns, and Zion Williamson as obstacles in the conference, the Dallas Mavericks should do whatever it takes to ensure they have players who won’t get played off the floor, especially with the “demand” for big men this free agency. As an unrestricted free agent this summer he is an ideal candidate, if the Mavericks could find a way to afford him. Isaiah Hartenstein fixes the Mavericks’ issues in a plethora of ways, specifically their recurring issues with interior defense that showed lapses several times during the playoffs. He impacts the game in a variety of ways: excels at guarding the pick and roll, has a soft touch around the glass, good offensive rebounder (92nd percentile), and is developing a solid stroke from beyond the arc. Once he joined the Clippers midseason in 2022, his shooting efficiency sky rocketed to 63 percent. Given his age and play last season, that’s a bargain the Mavericks should be all over.
For quite some time Dallas has been in need of an additional paint protector who can not only feast on the glass but create for themselves. Hartenstein’s underrated handle, unreal passing skills for a big man, and ability to score off the pick and rolls would give the Mavericks a much needed boost on offense. He’s not going to be initiating the offense as a primary ball handler as Wood would be, but I can imagine him being a focal part of the second unit for stretches.
Additionally, after taking a “deeper dive” into Hartenstein’s stats he becomes even more impressive. Being in a bench role can deflate offensive advance stats due to inconsistent playing time and a limited role, with PER and AST% often taking a hit. When James Harden was in a bench role in Oklahoma City he had a PER of 21.1, TS% of 66%, and an AST% of 19.3%. The only players in NBA history to have a higher PER, TS%, and AST% than James Harden in a bench role are Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Nikola Jokic, and Isaiah Hartenstein. On top of all this he leads all centers in defensive rating. Hartenstein also has a (+17) NET Rating on the season which is third in the NBA behind only Jokic and Curry.
There was only one player last season that had the following:
- EFG% > 60
- Rebound% > 10
- Assist% > 15
- Steal% > 2
- Block% > 4
If you guessed that player to be Isaiah Hartenstein you would be correct.
In 2021-22, there were just 11 bigs who posted an O-EPM + D-EPM of at least +1.0: Hartenstein RANKED 7th among them.
- Nikola Jokic
- Joel Embiid
- Rudy Gobert
- Mike Muscala
- Bam Adebayo
- Robert Williams
- Isaiah Hartenstein
- Anthony Davis
- Deandre Ayton
- Clint Capela
- Brandon Clarke
And here’s his advanced stats
- +7 On Court
- +9.9 On/Off Court
- +7 Net Rating
- 61.5% from 3 in April
- 127 Offensive Rating
- 106 Defensive Rating
In contrast to everything Hartenstein provides he is a poor defensive rebounder who at many times allows himself to get bullied in the low block. This causes his other glaring weakness that has followed him every step of the way throughout his career so far; his foul troubles.
Last season Hartenstein averaged 6.7 fouls per 36 mins (most in NBA amongst players with 500 mins or more) This year, Hartenstein took it upon himself to make himself more available on the floor as he averaged 4.9 fouls per 36 mins (16th most) On average Hartenstein spends 7.24 percent of his minutes in foul trouble.
- Together, Hartenstein’s bag of tricks as a cerebral passer, interior scorer, offensive rebounder make him an offensive weapon, even without a consistent jumper. On defense, he is a fearsome shot blocker who contests and protects the rim with proficiency. He has all the necessary tools to become a valuable franchise big man. Could the Mavericks give Jason Kidd a chance to unlock him into a coveted unit for the Dallas Mavericks on offense/defense in today’s modern NBA? While he seemed as a viable target at one point, teams have clearly figured out his value, competition from teams like Orlando and Chicago might drive up the price.