Despite a short-lived rumor circulating on social media, Isaiah Hartentstein’s fiance never complained about the center’s role with the Knicks.
But if Kourtney Kellar, a social media influencer and former Miss Texas, had indeed griped about Tom Thibodeau, she might have carried some legitimate talking points.
As the struggling Hartenstein outlined Wednesday, he has been stripped of playmaking duties to play more of a traditional center role, where he rarely feels the ball. It’s different from both his situation last season with the Clippers and what the Knicks were selling after agreeing to Hartenstein’s two-year, $16 million deal in the summer.
Billed as a playmaker with passing skills like Joakim Noah, Hartenstein said he’s now required to play more like the other two centers — Mitchell Robinson and Jericho Sims — who both rarely get offensive touches unless they’re rolling to the rim or grabbing an offensive rebound.
“It’s adjusting to a different role where it’s playing more like them, 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 role, where I’m just rolling into the pick-and-roll.”
Hartenstein reiterated multiple times that he’s fine with whatever is tasked. Still, his point is backed up by the stats. With the Knicks this season, he’s averaging 0.8 assists and holds the ball just 0.8 seconds per touch. His post-up opportunities are nonexistent.
Last season with the Clippers — despite playing fewer minutes — he averaged 2.4 assists and 2.06 seconds per touch.
“I don’t care. I’ve adjusted to it,” Hartenstein said. “It’s been a little harder but I’ve been adjusting a little better, just watching film.”
Beyond that struggle, Hartenstein revealed Wednesday that he’s been dealing with an inflamed Achilles tendon. The German international said he entered the season with the pain and it has remained stagnant at “about 80 percent.”
Hartenstein said it affects his defense and rebounding, which are often predicated on athleticism and physicality.
“I feel like I’m a little slower than I normally am. Little slower to get up to defend the shots where I normally am able to do really good,” he said.
The rebounding has been a team-wide issue this season – especially on the defensive glass – which prompted Hartenstein to do a deep dive into his personal issue. He said a film session revealed he’s boxing out his man better than anybody else, but needs to provide an extra effort to go up for the board.
“I was boxing out my guy, and other guys would come in and get the rebound,” he said. “So it’s me boxing out and also going out to go get it.”
There’s a greater focus on the center play because of stiff competition for playing time. A byproduct of Leon Rose signing three centers in the offseason, there’s no clear rotation for the trio as the season nears the quarter pole.
Hartenstein, Robinson and Sims have all started games in the last two weeks. The wild card is the health of Robinson, who was pulled from Monday’s game with a sore knee but participated in most of Wednesday’s practice.
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Thibodeau said he prefers a two-center rotation, which means somebody will be out of the loop.
“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.”
In other words, don’t believe the rumors of the complaints from his fiance, which made their way from Tik Tok to Reddit to Twitter and forced Kellar into a response of denial.
Besides, as Hartenstein noted, his finance knows enough about social media to avoid such controversies.
“She did all Miss America, so she’s super media trained,” said Hartenstein, who added that he called Kellar to get her story after the rumor began circulating. “She said that we love it here. We’ve been enjoying it here. Right now, it’s a little more difficult of a road trip just with everything I was going through and adjusting to just playing more [of a] Mitch role. And yeah, I like it here. I think my fiance likes it here, so I think it was just a situation where — I don’t know. It was very random.”
” It was very, very random, especially because I know she’s been doing this for a longer time. My mom has been a player’s wife for 13 years. And so, they talk a lot about how stuff works, so she knows exactly not to be like, ‘Oh god, this is terrible.’ It was funny, actually.”