Every few years, Germany serves up an intriguing and dynamic NBA prospect. The next one to emerge is 6’11” forward Isaiah Hartenstein, who could be Deutschland’s best talent since Dennis Schroder.
Hartenstein posted robust numbers against German and Lithuanian competition last year, and he also turned heads during February’s Basketball Without Borders showcase in Toronto. The 18-year-old southpaw is armed not only with length and athleticism, but promising outside shooting skills and passing ability. He could be an exceptionally tough cover within the next couple of years.
Right now, Hartenstein is projected to land in the mid-first round by most prognosticators. They’ve penciled him in the 14-22 range. While that’s a safe prediction, he has a great chance to move up the charts and earn top-10 consideration. When June rolls around, he could solidify himself as one of the top international commodities and a worthwhile gamble early in the draft.
One of his most appealing traits is his ability to compete around the rim. Hartenstein attacks the hoop, snares rebounds and competes in the paint on defense. The teenager often overwhelmed European opponents in transition and in the post. In 24.9 minutes per game, he posted 14.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per game for the Artland Dragons and Zalgiris Kaunas’ junior team.
He’s not fully polished right now, but Hartenstein has noticeable potential as both a post-up scorer and face-up slasher. Here are three plays that demonstrate his quickness, strength and body control around the bucket. Hartenstein executes a running hook, a quick move to dunk in traffic and a strong catch-and-finish in a pick-and-roll:
Hartenstein has struggled to consistently convert non-dunks around the rim. He needs to refine his touch on short bank shots, and there is plenty of room for improvement with his right hand. Nevertheless, you can tell he has the athleticism and coordination to eventually score effectively in the NBA.
His most intriguing long-term asset is outside shooting. Hartenstein shot 41 percent from the international arc last season, showcasing a smooth elevated delivery. It’s easy to envision him becoming a productive pick-and-pop threat in the Association:
Hartenstein’s vision and passing skills are an attractive bonus. He sees the floor better than most big men his age, and he rifles some pretty passes in transition and half-court scenarios.
Whether he has his back to the basket or just grabbed a rebound in a crowd, Hartenstein has a knack for finding open teammates. Sometimes he’s too busy forcing his own shot in scoring mode, but he can create special plays when he keeps his head up. Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com lauded the youngster’s passing prowess during Basketball Without Borders:
(Hartenstein’s) highly skilled for his size…Excellent passer when he decides to create for others. Came up with some beautiful passes threading the needle through traffic.
Let’s peek at a couple of examples of his timing and precision. For someone who just turned 18 in May, these plays are impressive and suggest dynamic role-player potential:
While Hartenstein’s defense isn’t as alluring as his offense, he has the physical gifts to compete on that end. His strength and lateral agility enable him to stay in front of most forwards when he’s locked in. Few teenage big men have his combination of power and foot speed, which means he’s an early candidate to guard both 4s and 5s in the NBA.
Hartenstein’s athleticism also boosts his rebounding upside. Not only is he strong enough to battle for position, but his body control and timing are also superb. He cleaned up 8.9 defensive boards per game for the Dragons last season. During his first couple of seasons in the NBA, rebounding might be his most consistent contribution.
Factor in his length to disrupt passes and contest shots, and you have an exciting defensive prospect. Hartenstein could be groomed into an above-average stopper who gives his coach lineup flexibility and schematic options.
To be clear, Hartenstein has a long way to go on both ends of the court. He must work on executing the offense, look for higher percentage shots and assert himself more consistently on defense. Rick Pietro of NBADraft.net explains:
He lacks consistency within games, where it is common place for him to do a couple of amazing plays and then disappear for a while…His decision making is questionable, he doesn’t always make the best decision, but often gets away with it because he is way more athletic and stronger than everybody else, but these types of plays will not work in the future…Defensively he is lazy, wants to block shots or get rebounds more than get his butt low and play tough defense
Fortunately, he just turned 18 and the positives vastly outweigh the negatives. The physical wares are in place, and Hartenstein owns the key offensive skills to be a high-end NBA role player. He could become a second or third scoring option on a mid-tier NBA team, one who gets between 13-16 points per game. Depending on how much he improves defensively, Hartenstein’s athleticism could boost his club’s defensive value.
The 2017 draft class is talented, especially in the frontcourt. But Hartenstein’s blend of above-the-rim agility and perimeter skills will be tough to resist. A strong season for Zalgiris Kaunas would garner late-lottery looks, perhaps even in the top 10.