Why Is Isaiah Hartenstein Linked To the Brooklyn Nets So Often?

German-American Isaiah Hartenstein has been tied to the Brooklyn Nets in a myriad of mock drafts, but why?

NetsDaily compiled a list of the mock drafts put together by various outlets, and pointed out the prospects that the Nets are expected to select. DraftExpress, SB Nation, Sports Illustrated and the New York Post are just a handful, but Isaiah Hartenstein was overwhelmingly the favorite prospects. As of Wednesday, June 7, seven of the 16 mocks have Hartenstein going to Brooklyn.

This list is subject to change as the draft gets even closer. One thing that’s certain, however, is that experts are expecting the Nets to draft a frontcourt player. I believe the same because they have an abundance of guards. Any more backcourt players would just saturate the position, and the collective talent they have supersedes the forwards and centers. Outside of Brook Lopez and Trevor Booker, the Nets don’t have any notable bigs.

The infatuation with Hartenstein is just like any other European forward or center.

In this day and age, European players have two projections — Dirk or Darko. We either set the bar too high or too low. I haven’t heard many Nowitzki comparisons when Hartenstein is brought up, and I want to keep it that way. If we draw any parallels, it’s to Dragan Bender of the Phoenix Suns.

Hartenstein is relatively unknown, but he has made his way to a couple of European leagues. The seven-foot 19-year-old played professionally in the Euroleague and the Lithuanian Basketball League, and he also made an appearance at the 2017 Nike Hoop Summit. His Euroleague stats are very unimpressive. Zalgiris went 14-16, and Hartenstein suited up for just five of the 30 contests. He averaged 3.2 minutes, 1.0 point and 0.8 rebounds. He wasn’t ready to compete against the best, and that’s okay. The fact that he wanted to play verse superior opponents is encouraging. In the LKL he averaged, 4.9 points and 3.5 rebounds. Additionally, he dominated on Zalgiris’ Junior Team in 2015-16: 23.5 points, 11.3 boards and 3.3 blocks in four games.

Just because the numbers aren’t jaw-dropping doesn’t mean Hartenstein can’t play. It means that it’ll (probably) take time for him to make noise in the NBA. He’s got all the skills and the size to morph into a stretch-five, and bigs who can shoot and defend are going to be huge for the future of the NBA. At 7-1.25, Hartenstein is one of the tallest players in the class. He also sports a 250-pound frame and a modest 7-2.25 wingspan. On size alone, Hartenstein can put together serviceable outings. What the Nets need more than anything is big with size who can defend. Brook Lopez is that. He blocks shots, but rim protection isn’t the first thing that pops into my head with him. Trevor Booker is also a solid a defender, but taller players can exploit him because he’s giving up size.

Hartenstein is an exceptional athlete for a seven-footer, and his lack of length isn’t an issue because he moves well laterally. Even when he does get beat, he’s been able to recover. I do hold my breath a bit because the NBA’s athletes are world-class. Unlike Europe, we prioritize athleticism and explosiveness when looking at college prospects. My belief is that it’s easier to fix a jump shot than it is to get a 40-inch vertical. That’s more guard-focused, but it’s a legitimate concern if the Nets wanted someone to switch onto perimeter guys. Fortunately, it’s not that big of an issue.

On the bright side, Hartenstein will be able to bang bodies on the block because he isn’t pencil-thin. He can also throw that frame around when going after rebounds, and it was painful watching the Nets give up rebound after rebound after rebound.

I keep saying that one guy isn’t going to turn the Nets around defensively. Mostly, I say it because I believe it. I also say it because I’m hoping to speak it into existence. Because of this, Hartenstein wouldn’t be critiqued so harshly on defense. Take Rondae Hollis-Jefferson for example — in a couple of seasons, he’ll be an elite wing defender, but no one will notice if the team as an aggregate is terrible. Hartenstein likely won’t become elite, but it shows that team defense outweighs individual.

The other end of the court is where Hartenstein is the most intriguing. Brooklyn runs an offense that’s heavy on passing and shooting. Neither are done efficiently — 26th in three-point percentage (33.8) and 2nd in turnovers committed per game (16.5). The weird thing is that the Nets are fun to watch; it’s like watching the pre-pre-Alpha version of the Golden State Warriors’ offense. Scouts have noted his vision, but his perimeter game is still weak. Hartenstein and Lopez wouldn’t see the court at the same time because this isn’t the 1985 Houston Rockets. No team in 2017 is going to run to seven-footers.

Hartenstein is, however, a refreshing switch from Lopez. In the last year, Lopez has completely revamped his game and is now a shockingly reliable three-point shooter. Hartenstein gets less accurate the further he strays. In 33 league games, he connected on eight of his 30 attempts, which is 26.7 percent. Since he’s spent his entire life playing in Europe, he’s developed some nice moves from the low post, but he’s not ready to be a go-to guy just yet. The foundation is there, though.

International prospects are hit-and-miss. Is Hartenstein worth the first-round selection? Yes, but only because the Nets pick at its tail-end. I wouldn’t be upset if they chose him because he has shown some flashes and he isn’t unknown like some others. The biggest thing, especially since he’s an unpolished big, is that everyone needs to stay patient. It took Nowitzki four years to become “Dirk.” It took Milicic nearly a decade to become “Darko.”

I'm obsessed with basketball. I play (my hesi pull-up Jimbo is cash), I write and cover the Nets here at ESNY. My work has been seen on Bleacher Report, Sports Illustrated and FanSided. I also run my company, TBN Media. My favorite NBA player is Isaiah Thomas because I can look him in the eye.