For some rookies, NBA draft isn’t the start of a pro career

USA Basketball
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MIAMI (AP) — Isaiah Hartenstein’s NBA odyssey will start at the draft.

His pro career started years ago.

Unlike Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum and most everyone else who will get their names called at Thursday’s NBA draft – the true start of their pro lives – Hartenstein already knows what playing for a living is like. His pro career started in Germany in 2015, and he helped Zalgiris grab the Lithuanian Basketball League title earlier this month.

And now the NBA awaits the 19-year-old.

“First of all, me playing professional already helps a lot,” Hartenstein said. “My body is fit for the league right now. I still have to work on it a lot, but there are skills I couldn’t show this year because of the system we played. I have a good shot, I’m very versatile on defense and offense. I think I can help teams out a lot.”

His story is not typical.

Born in Eugene, Oregon, where his father played college ball, Hartenstein and his family moved about a decade ago to Germany. They went because his father, Flo, was playing pro ball there. Colleges made their recruiting pitches as Hartenstein got older and taller – he’s now 7-foot-1 and about 225 pounds – but he opted to stay in Europe and start practicing and playing against pros when he was 15.

Skipping college was a risk.

It might now be paying off.

“He’s a 19-year-old kid with a unique background,” said Wasserman agent B.J. Armstrong, who represents Hartenstein. “His maturity level is well beyond 19 and I think he has an opportunity to be a very good player here. I commend him for choosing what he thought was the best way for him to develop, and he’s now willing to take the next step.”

There won’t be as much international flavor in this draft as there was a year ago, when a record 27 players from outside the U.S. were selected. But there’s been at least 10 international draft picks in each of the last 17 years, and that streak is likely to continue.

French point guard Frank Ntilikina – 6-foot-5 with a massive wingspan and who doesn’t even turn 19 until July – has been playing pro ball in Europe, like Hartenstein. Ntilikina is projected as a lottery pick, and has had the NBA on his radar for years.

“I work every day to be the best player I can be,” Ntilikina said. “And I hope that I’ve done enough to be a good player in the NBA.”

Jonah Bolden is another foreign player with an intriguing back story. The Australian-born forward played one season at UCLA, then left and has since been playing in pro leagues in Australia and Serbia. And guard Terrance Ferguson, born in Oklahoma, decided against college ball and spent this past season playing in an Australian league.

So Hartenstein’s isn’t the only non-traditional path to the draft. But he’s convinced the path he took was the right one.

“The learning experience being overseas, learning from older people, playing with professionals every day, being in the professional lifestyle on and off the court, you learn you have to mature fast,” Hartenstein said. “You’re not just representing yourself, you’re representing the organization. So you learn from the good experiences and bad experiences others have had, and I think that really helps me out.”

The NBA was part of Hartenstein’s daily routine while playing in Lithuania: practice in the morning, eat, watch NBA League Pass, practice again in the evening, eat again, watch more NBA League Pass. And when he wanted to talk about NBA life, a great resource was always nearby – his coach with Zalgiris was Sarunas Jasikevicius, who played for Indiana and Golden State.

Being 7-foot-1 with German ties – Hartenstein holds dual German and American citizenship – and a jump shot, the comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki are unavoidable. Even his father sees some parallels between their games.

For now, Hartenstein shrugs off comparisons.

He’s just ready to take on whatever challenge the NBA brings.

“Everyone will have their own opinion on how they see me,” Hartenstein said. “I’m my own player. At the end of the day, no one can be like Dirk. He’s done a lot for the game and I definitely appreciate what he’s done for the game in Germany and for European basketball. So comparisons are nice, but at the end of the day I’m my own player and have to show what I can do.”

 

Watch Jamal Murray, Kawhi Leonard score first buckets in returns

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It’s only preseason. But if you’ve sat out an entire season with an ACL injury,  just getting on the court feels like a milestone.

And getting your first bucket back feels memorable.

That happened for the Nuggets Jamal Murray and the Clippers Kawhi Leonard on Monday night.

For Murray, the bucket came on a corner 3 in transition.

Murray also showed flashes he’s getting his handle and wiggle back, something that made him a great fit with Nikola Jokic.

Leonard wasted no time, scoring the Clippers’ first bucket by lulling his defender to sleep and then shooting the pull-up 3.

I feel we’re going to see a lot more of that this season.

The NBA is just better with these two back on the court.

 

Cavaliers Evan Mobley out 1-2 weeks with sprained ankle

2022-23 Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day
Nick Falzerano/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Cleveland Cavaliers might have the best frontcourt in the East this season with All-Star Jarrett Allen and the emerging star Evan Mobley, but it may be a few weeks before we see them together.

Mobley is out 1-2 weeks with a sprained right ankle, the Cavaliers announced a couple of days before their preseason opener. Mobley stepped on a teammate’s foot and rolled his ankle during practice, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

Mobley, who finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds a game in his first campaign, but his more significant impact was on the defensive end. Mobley earned All-Defensive Team consideration as a rookie — an incredibly rare feat — and with Allen formed an impressive backstop for teams trying to drive the paint.

Reports out of Cavaliers training camp rave about the improvements made in Mobley’s offensive game, but we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see that for ourselves now. Mobley, with a more consistent face-up game and jumper, has the potential to develop into a top 15, maybe even top-10 player in the league. The Cavaliers are banking on the young core of Mobley, Allen, Darius Garland and the just acquired Donovan Mitchell to be able to take the team far in the next few years, with Mobley’s improvement key to just how far they can go.

It sounds like Mobley will be good to go for the start of the season.

Karl-Anthony Towns just cleared to walk Saturday following non-COVID illness

Karl-Anthony Towns Offseaon Workout
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images
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Karl-Anthony Towns has not been in camp with the Timberwolves, sidelined by a non-COVID illness. Beyond that, there were not a lot of details other than his girlfriend Jordyn Woods saying on social media that she had taken him to the hospital.

Towns spoke to the media for the first time this season on Monday and said he was just cleared to walk again on Saturday, but did not get into detail about whatever illness he is dealing with.

First, it is Towns’ right if and when to disclose what he went through. This is not an on-court injury leading to a loss of playing time, and it is his call to talk about.

Towns has been sidelined before by illness, including COVID. After losing his mother and other family members to the disease, he also had a long battle with it. Fortunately, this is not that virus, but whatever it was it sidelined him for a couple of weeks.

That missed training camp is a setback as the Timberwolves try to get used to a two-big lineup with KAT and Rudy Gobert, plus some other new faces. Still, Towns and Minnesota should be good to go by the start of the season, a team thinking playoffs and much more after spending big this offseason.

Lakers reportedly ‘seriously considered’ Westbrook trade for Hield, Turner

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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it. So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That was Lakers GM Rob Pelinka on media day talking about the possibility of the Lakers trading the only two first-round picks they control this decade — 2027 and 2029 — to upgrade this roster around LeBron. Pelinka was clear the Lakers were committed to building a winner around LeBron, “We have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game, and he committed to us on a long-term contract, a three-year contract… He committed to our organization. That’s gotta be a bilateral commitment, and it’s there.”

But should that include a Russell Westbrook trade to Indiana for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner? Shams Charania of The Athletic updated and added to the extensive previous reporting on this trade, saying the Lakers kept the door open right up to the start of training camp but didn’t pull the trigger.

Vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, owner Jeanie Buss and senior basketball adviser Kurt Rambis seriously considered sending Westbrook and unprotected first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 to the Pacers for center Myles Turner and guard Buddy Hield, sources said. They held a series of meetings in the days leading up to camp to analyze the possible Pacers deal from every angle, with the views of Ham and Lakers executives Joey and Jesse Buss also being strongly considered in the process. The organization even delayed the midweek news conference for Pelinka and Ham as the debate continued…

If they were going to gamble on a make-or-break move of this magnitude, the thinking went, then everyone had to have confidence in the same vision. But when that wasn’t the case, sources say, the choice was made by Pelinka to remain patient and see, yet again, if Westbrook might find a way to make this imperfect fit with the Lakers work.

Hield and Turner would absolutely improve the Lakers. Turner can play the five, is an elite shot blocker who could provide a strong defensive back line next to Anthony Davis, and is a respectable 3-point shooter who can space the floor. He’s a natural fit. Hield brings shooting that the Lakers have coveted for years and need more of now.

That trade would have moved the Lakers up the ladder to a solid playoff team in the West. Would that trade make the Lakers contenders? Probably not. It still would have come back to the bubble version of Davis and LeBron being ready for the final 16-game sprint to have a puncher’s chance (that may be the case regardless of other moves). Also, it would have messed with future free agency plans in Los Angeles — the Lakers can have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase Kyrie Irving (although Shams reports that’s not in their plans) or other name players, Hield is owed $19.3 million next season and Turner will be a free agent the Lakers would need to re-sign. This deal would end the dream of a free agent taking a little less than the max to come to the Lakers (a dream not likely to come to reality anyway).

As Pelinka said, the Lakers have one shot with trading their two picks to upgrade the roster — they have to hit a home run, this can’t be a solid single. The Lakers were not convinced Hield and Turner could be that home run tandem.

So Los Angeles will go into the season with a starting five of Westbrook, Kendrick Nunn, LeBron, Davis, and Damian Jones, with a bench of Patrick Beverley, Thomas Bryant, Austin Reaves, and Dennis Schroder. The Lakers will see if it fits, how far it looks like this group can take them under new coach Darvin Ham, and watch the market to see what other stars could become available.

The Lakers aren’t done dealing, but it looks like a deal with Indiana is now in the rearview mirror.