When the Clippers signed Isaiah Hartenstein in the offseason — and put him through a training camp battle with Harry Giles — the expectation was that the 23-year-old would serve as a stopgap backup until Serge Ibaka was healthy enough to return.
Hartenstein manned that position with aplomb while Ibaka recovered from back surgery, to the point that Ibaka didn’t have a place in the rotation. After two games, the veteran center went down to the G League to regain his condition so he could better impact the Clippers. It worked to an extent, but Ibaka essentially shifted over to power forward, playing more than half of his minutes next to either Hartenstein or Ivica Zubac.
It wasn’t until Hartenstein injured his ankle, and Zubac then entered health and safety protocols, that Ibaka got real center rotation minutes. And once all three bigs were healthy, Ty Lue pledged to give all three a chance, at least in the first half, in each game. But over the past seven games with all of them available, it’s become clear that there is a pecking order at the big man position, and Hartenstein is not at the bottom.
The German-American is a better defender than Ibaka both at the rim, where opponents shoot six percent worse with him on the court, and in space. He is a secondary hub on offense, springing the Clippers’ shooters and drivers open with his handoffs, his favorite partner obviously being Luke Kennard. And if it weren’t for his propensity to foul so much, Hartenstein might even be an option as a starter.
The statistical chasm between Hartenstein and Ibaka has become too glaring to ignore. Over the past seven games, the Clippers have a plus-17.5 net rating with Hartenstein on the floor and minus-17.4 when Ibaka plays. The younger big is a more effective scorer and playmaker whose primary defect is that he doesn’t space the floor, but the Clippers have enough scorers to mitigate that weakness.
At this point, the Clippers have to consider moving on from Ibaka. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, so he might leave anyway, and the Clippers could use the roster spot. They need to sign Amir Coffey to a full-time contract to avoid losing him this summer, and that prospect is far more frightening than parting ways with Ibaka.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Ibaka moved at the trade deadline for that reason. He has had his chance to prove his value to this team; unfortunately for the veteran big man, the Clippers have a better option who deserves those minutes.
More news for Friday:
- Paul George finished fifth among Western Conference forwards in All-Star starter voting. He was fourth in fan vote, seventh in the media vote, and eighth in the player vote.
- The starters are: Stephen Curry, Ja Morant, Andrew Wiggins, LeBron James, Nikola Jokić, DeMar DeRozan, Trae Young, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Joel Embiid. James and Durant are the captains.
- Jake Fischer has his latest round of trade deadline buzz, and the Clippers are fully absent.
- Brian Windhorst recounts what has happened to Aron Baynes over the last six months.
- Vincent Goodwill highlights some poor refereeing occurring across the league.