As the Denver Nuggets return to training camp, it’s important for fans to become reacquainted with their favorite team. During a shortened offseason, the Nuggets made several player transactions, more than usual, and the resulting roster looks very different than it did before. 10 players on the 2019-20 roster have returned for the 2020-21 season, and they are:
Jamal Murray - point guard
Monte Morris - point guard
PJ Dozier - combo guard
Gary Harris - shooting guard
Will Barton - wing/forward
Michael Porter Jr. - forward
Bol Bol - forward
Paul Millsap - power forward
Vlatko Čančar - power forward
Nikola Jokić - center
That leaves seven roster spots, each of which the Nuggets have filled with a player hoping to move the Nuggets closer to winning their first championship in franchise history.
Today, it’s time to introduce Nuggets fans to Isaiah Hartenstein.
Isaiah Hartenstein Player Profile
Previous Team: Houston Rockets
Height, Weight, Wingspan: 7’0”, 250 lbs, 7’2”
How did Hartenstein get to the Nuggets?
Hartenstein grew up playing international basketball, having grown up in Germany while his father, Florian Hartenstein. After a few seasons playing professionally as a teenager, he declared for the NBA draft in 2017. The Houston Rockets selected him with the 43rd overall pick, and he spent most of his time with the franchise’s G-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. He’ll actually come to the Nuggets with experience playing with Monte Morris, as the two players were teammates during the 2017-18 season.
Hartenstein made the 2018-19 All-G-League team, and has been one of the best big men to play in the league the past few seasons. He only saw limited minutes with the Rockets when he would get called up to the NBA, but when given the opportunity to play in the G League, he was highly effective. The Rockets waived him last season, and as an unrestricted free agent, he was free to sign with the Nuggets.
What to Expect from Hartenstein
For starters, Hartenstein is not a big, white stiff that Nuggets fans have grown accustomed to as the backup big on the team — Hartenstein’s father is African-American. He’s an impressive dunker, similar to Mason Plumlee, with the ability to powerfully finish with both hands when given a lane to the basket. It’s not difficult to see him finishing a couple dunks per game courtesy of a nifty pass from Monte Morris or Facu Campazzo.
While he is able to use his athleticism to finish efficiently around the rim, there’s a burgeoning skill set in his game that he has yet to fully untap. He has a flair for the dramatic, and will occasionally find a teammate open for an easy basket as he’s diving to the rim. He shoots fine enough from the free throw line (66% career in the G League), and has shown the ability to shoot from behind the 3-point line, although it’s a shot that he still needs to develop. I could see him learning how to shoot from the corners, focusing on becoming skilled from one area, giving him one additional way to space the floor when he’s on the court.
He’s going to play with a lot of energy, setting good screens and crashing the glass for rebounds. He’ll have to commit to becoming more disciplined on defense, and reining in some of his emotions to maintain focus on his assignments.
Denver has an interesting positional battle for the backup big role going into training camp. While Hartenstein is older and has more experience, he plays a similar game to Zeke Nnaji. The coaching staff will get a good chance to see which player edges out the other, and earns the minutes that will be available behind Jokic.
A two-year contract is a great gamble for both Hartenstein and the Nuggets. If Hartenstein is capable of replicating some of the play that make him great in the G-League, he’ll be a nice contributor to the team over the next two seasons. He’ll have shown the NBA that he’s worth a bigger contract, and will be able to thank the Nuggets for helping him refine his game. If it doesn’t work out, he won’t hurt the team’s salary cap and he won’t be around for too long. Thank goodness they didn’t pay their backup center $40 million this time around — one of Nnaji or Hartenstein should be able to fill that role plenty fine.
One thing is for certain — when he started for Houston, he was a beast. The Nuggets may have found something great here. It’s going to take a lot of polishing, but I’m excited.