January 4, 2020, 4:19 pm
Welcome back, Hoop Ballers, to another installment of our International Spotlight weekly feature where we will be taking a look into one of the hottest waiver-wire pickups in recent days, American-German forward/center Isaiah Hartenstein who has played himself into the rotation over the last few games.
Hartenstein has been a regular in my columns over the last couple years as he has shown solid upside while in the G League, slowly earning the trust of the Rockets. An athletic body that comes from a basketball family, he is the son of Florian Hartenstein, a German former professional basketball player/coach and, as expected, he grew up playing nothing but hoops.
A member of the German junior national teams since 2014, when he was just 16 years old, he made a name for himself by earning MVP honors for EuroLeague powerhouse Zalgiris Kaunas of Lithuania at the Adidas Next Generation Tournament in 2016 while also playing for the World team in the Hoop Summit that year. At just 18 years of age, he played sparingly for Zalgiris’ senior team, averaging 4.2 points and 3.3 rebounds over 11.5 minutes per game while catching the eye of many international scouts.
Hartenstein declined an invitation to the 2017 NBA Draft Combine but was selected in the second round by the Rockets, who opted to let him develop in the G League with one of the best programs in the league, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
G League Legend
Hartenstein was not even close to playing at the NBA level after getting drafted by the Rockets but he decided to stay in the U.S. and play for their G League team. That was definitely a great move for him as he got plenty of time on the court, learning Houston’s system and slowly dominating against guys he had to beat in order to prove himself.
While he had a modest rookie season with the Vipers, he terrorized the G League last year with some monster performances, playing in 26 games and averaging 19.4 points, 14.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 2.0 blocks on 62.2 percent from the field, a massive improvement from his first year.
Personal improvement was not the only goal achieved though as the Vipers won their third G League title with Hartenstein being named as the Finals MVP for his dominant performance which saw him average 28.0 points, 15.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.6 blocked shots on 51 percent from the field, knocking down 13 3-pointers in the series, including a ridiculous 8-of-9 from beyond the arc in Game 2!
Hartenstein is a versatile left-handed player with solid wingspan (7’2”) who can play either as a power forward or as a center. His energy and his wingspan allow him to play above the rim even if he’s a notch below Clint Capela as a leaper as he keeps the Rockets’ vertical spacing intact without their starting center. The Rockets play a very specific type of basketball at the offensive end with few adjustments and their guys need to follow the exact game plan. Here is rookie point guard Chris Clemons finding the big man in the open court for the easy dunk.
The German kid runs the floor well, he has a good physique, a really strong frame and solid length, while he looks in great shape, a sign of someone who takes care of his body. He has a great first step that helps him blow by his defender and very good body control for a player his size and age which translates to him getting to the line a lot, even though he has been below average from there.
What’s really exciting is that he plays the pick-and-roll very well both as a screener and a roller, going deep to the basket after he sets a pick, using his very good ball handling skills for a guy his size, and changing speed and pace like a wing. Look at this beautiful play where he approaches James Harden but fakes the screen and quickly rolls to the rim while Jeff Green fails to rotate.
Hartenstein has legit NBA range and can become a very good stretch-big player but this hasn’t translated at the NBA level yet as his stroke is still not so fluid and he doesn’t seem to have the green light from the coaching staff yet.
High Fouling Rate and Playing Within the System
One thing that is constant is how Hartenstein brings a high level of energy and activity that every team needs and Mike D’Anthoni is happy to recognize that. “Offensively, he does things nobody can teach. He’s quick in getting picks for James, he’s quick off the ball, relentless on the boards. Just his energy alone makes him valuable.”
His hustle plays and screen setting have not gone unnoticed, but the young center has struggled in his first couple seasons to find the right balance between his noticeable high energy and effort with the need for the Rockets to have someone reliable who can stay on the floor.
The key has always been to be able to defend without fouling, an area where Hartenstein has struggled immensely. Playing in 28 games with the Rockets last year, he managed to last only 7.9 minutes on the floor, averaging 2.0 fouls per game and an absurd 9.1 per 36 minutes, constantly being bullied inside by bruising bigs while Houston has been traditionally vulnerable on the offensive glass. Look at Marc Gasol easily moving to his comfort zone in the post and abusing the young Hartenstein, who looks clueless.
The kid seems to have worked hard this year in order to improve on that end, staying calmer and avoiding gambles, sticking with traditional defensive principles and trying to use the fact that the Rockets don’t switch as often to his advantage. Look at him patiently helping Austin Rivers avoid the switch and then backing off and using his explosiveness to block Domantas Sabonis, who thinks he has a clean layup. Hartenstein is a solid one-one-one blocker and his lateral quickness is above average for his size, helping the Rockets force tough, contested shots inside the arc and outside the paint, getting back on defense quickly in order to avoid early clock shots and transition scoring, while the fast paced action that the team is known for requires quick decisions.
Again, the German big struggled last year and often found himself in no man’s land but he has been spending more and more time with the team’s veterans getting familiar with the places he needs to be in order to not disrupt the offensive flow of a team with the second best offensive rating in the league (114.1).
This is a possession that drives coaches crazy. While he is quick to secure the rebound, he struggles with the pass to James Harden instead of moving the ball, forcing a silly turnover while slowing down the team’s pace.
Fantasy Implications: HartensTime?
The lack of financial flexibility hasn’t allowed the Rockets to address their backup center position in recent years, continuously relying on veteran oft-injured bigs. The team tried, unsuccessfully, to develop Zhou Qi in recent years and Hartenstein is their next project who, after 3 years in the G League, seems to be ready for regular NBA minutes. He still needs to prove to MDA that he can be relied upon and a lot of ups and downs are expected as he is learning how to play with a group of veterans that has little to no patience for young, immature kids.
Hartenstein fits the Rockets’ style of play and is someone who can help them address their weaknesses in rebounding and in depth as long as he can minimize the areas where he is a burden instead of an asset. His active hands can translate to plenty of defections, steals and blocks while the rebounding numbers cannot be ignored so he is someone you should roster in deeper formats.
I made sure that dynasty players took notice at the beginning of the season since his combination of size, skillset and versatility is difficult to ignore. He has shown promise on both ends of the court and while his level of play might not be quite at the level of a nightly contributor, it won’t take much time before he earns himself a role for the Rockets.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s article and try to keep an eye on Hartenstein as he is trying to solidify himself in the rotation. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @philysstar and stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.
Stats are courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of January 4th.