Raptors: Could Isaiah Hartenstein replace Freddie Gillespie?

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 25: Isaiah Hartenstein #55 of the Cleveland Cavaliers (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 25: Isaiah Hartenstein #55 of the Cleveland Cavaliers (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /

Even though players like Isaiah Hartenstein were available on the free agent market, the Toronto Raptors have apparently decided to stick with a center rotation that features Khem Birch as the starter, Precious Achiuwa as the small ball backup option, and Freddie Gillespie as the mop-up third-string player.

However, if the Raptors want to make every position as deep as possible, they made need to find someone a bit better than Gillespie, who has been absolutely ravaged in Summer League play. The high-energy big we saw last year appears to have been replaced by someone who has been bullied by marginal NBA talent in Las Vegas.

While Gillespie isn’t guaranteed any money until August 20 ($50,000) or Opening Night (when his deal becomes fully guaranteed) or a roster spot, the Raptors might need to add someone else to challenge him.

Hartenstein, a former second-round pick who spent a good chunk of last season with the Cleveland Cavaliers after a trade from Denver, is an unrestricted free agent after Koby Altman didn’t extend a qualifying offer. He averaged 8.3 points and 6.0 rebounds with the Cavs.

While Birch and Achiuwa are solidified as the starter and backup, the spot behind them on the depth chart is up for grabs. After Gillespie’s uneven showing in Vegas, Toronto should give Hartenstein a look.

Isaiah Hartenstein could be better for the Raptors than Freddie Gillespie.

Per Cleaning the Glass, Gillespie was in just the second percentile among all bigs with regard to efficiency differential and points per 100 possessions. The only big who negatively impacted their team on offense more? The immortal Mamadi Diakite, who ranked below Gillespie by a slim margin.

While the Raptors were negatively impacted by 16.2 points per 100 possessions when Gillespie was on the floor, Hartenstein helped Cleveland by positively impacting them by 8.0 points per 100. In fact, the 8.9 points per 100 advantage when he was on the floor ranked in the 95th percentile across the NBA among bigs

Gillespie’s value lies almost entirely in his ability to rebound, finish easy looks on the interior, and protect the rim. In Vegas, he failing to deliver even one of those objectives against some inferior opponents. It might be time for Hartenstein to come in and provide him with some more competition if the raptors aren’t sold on Anas Mahmoud.

Hartenstein’s production is not just the product of getting minutes on a lousy team. It’s a former top prospect finally starting to put it together in the NBA. With shot-blocking skill, solid efficiency on the boards, and an offensive game that could really benefit from a 3-point shot, Hartenstein could be quality, cost-effective backup for Achiuwa and Birch.

If Hartenstein is unable to secure a more expensive contract elsewhere, joining Toronto for cheap, which would enable him a chance to both compete for minutes and get expert offensive coaching from Nick Nurse, could give the Raptors the depth in the frontcourt they need and ensure that he continues to refine his skillset.

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