What Isaiah Hartenstein brings to the Denver Nuggets

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer

Following their initial flurry of additions in free agency, the Denver Nuggets remained active over the ensuing days, making several roster moves to open up a spot for Isaiah Hartenstein, a 22-year-old big man that has impressed in the G League in recent years.

The move to bring in the power forward/center continues a trend for Denver’s front office, which has focused on adding young players to the backend of the roster in hopes of them realizing their potential by working with the Nuggets’ impressive player development staff.

Hartenstein fits that bill, as he has thrived in the G League (where he was once a teammate of Monte Morris on the Rio Grande Valley Vipers) as a result of seeing limited NBA action over the past two seasons with the contending Houston Rockets team. The 43rd pick in the 2017 NBA Draft has played in 487 minutes across 51 NBA games over the past two years but has been productive in those opportunities. In fact, Hartenstein has posted a net rating above +4.0 in both seasons, albeit in a very limited sample size.

At just 22, there is reason to believe Hartenstein has more room to grow. During the 2019-20 G League season, the German big man averaged an eye-popping 24.9 points, 14.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game.

Mostly known for his offensive skill set as a finisher around the rim, he also has shooting potential but it hasn’t materialized in the NBA or G League up to this point.

Let’s take a closer look at what Hartenstein can add to Denver’s frontcourt.

Hustle and rim-running highlight offensive game

If Hartenstein is scoring in Denver’s offense, you can confidently assume those buckets will come around the rim. Throughout his first two seasons in the league, a staggering 70.4 percent of his shot attempts have come from within three feet of the basket.

This is a great sign when you also realize Hartenstein has shot 71.1 percent from that area of the floor over those two years, including 79.2 percent last season. As a member of the Rockets over the past two seasons, Hartenstein has spent the majority of his NBA minutes alongside elite playmakers such as James Harden, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook.

In that role, Hartenstein has served as a pick-and-roll big man that looks to clean up on easy looks around the basket. Over the past two years, 82.3 percent of Hartenstein’s field-goals have been assisted.

When Hartenstein isn’t rolling to the rim in halfcourt offensive sets, he will be seen running the floor hard in transition, whether to be ready to set an early screen or to capitalize on a lagging defense for easy buckets.

Although it’s hard to project Hartenstein’s role in Denver, he should essentially continue to set screens for Denver’s perimeter players and hover around the paint to clean up on any missed shots or easy looks after dump-off passes.

Impressive rebounding, especially on offensive end

Perhaps there is no better way to explain Hartenstein’s motor on the glass then by revealing that during his time in Houston, fans created #hustlestein on Twitter as a way to address his contributions when on the floor.

That hustle can be seen on the boards, especially on the offensive end of the floor. Over the past two seasons, Hartenstein averaged 3.7 offensive rebounds per-36 minutes. During the 2019-20 campaign, Houston’s offensive rebound percentage increased by 2.8 percent with the 22-year-old on the floor, which ranked in the 83rd percentile.

On the defensive end of the floor, Hartenstein has been a solid presence on the glass. Last season, the German averaged 8.3 defensive rebounds per-36 minutes. In the G League, those rebounding numbers have really impressed at 4.7 offensive rebounds and 10 defensive rebounds per game (in 32.6 minutes of action).

Although there is room for improvement on the defensive glass for the 7’0” big man (Houston’s team defensive rebound percentage decreased by 2.8 percent with Hartenstein on the floor last season), fans will never doubt the hustle and energy he brings to the boards each time he steps on the floor.

Once again, Denver has added a young big man to the frontcourt. With Hartenstein joining the likes of Bol Bol and Zeke Nnaji, the Nuggets have an opportunity to develop each player in the hopes that they can stick in the rotation at some point in the future.

Given Hartenstein’s skill on offense and hustle on the boards, it never hurts to take a chance on a young player that can develop over time in the Mile High City.


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