This is a three chapter series outlining the players who are more or less known on the European basketball landscape in chapter one, while chapter two will introduce players who have flown under the radar for some reason or another. Chapter three will outline the next generation of players who are just now bursting on the German basketball scene.
Chapter One: The known commodities
Isaac Bonga 6’8 179 (‘99, G/F, Koblenz/Frankfurt Skyliners)
Isaac Bonga is in a peculiar situation this season, as he plays for SG Lützel-Post Koblenz in the Regionalliga-Südwest (4th highest level in Germany). While his playing time is not off the charts with close to 12mpg, Koblenz also does not possess an accomplished youth program. Therefore, he plays for the Frankfurt Skyliners in the NBBL, allowing him to compete on the highest German youth level and earn important minutes regard of his development as a player. He practices with Frankfurt once a week, making the two hour trek from Koblenz
Having grown a few more inches since the 2015 U16 European Championships in Kaunas, Bonga seems to grow by the minute. Still very skinny at this point, he may not be done growing and will need some time until he has grown into his body completely. Given that he shows a development in his athleticism. While he showed glimpses of being an athlete, he now consistently blows by defenders with relative ease. On the other end of the floor his lateral quickness suggests he has the makings of becoming an elite defender.
On the defensive end Bonga is not only a pest on the ball, but continues to display disruptiveness in the passing lanes due to his long arms. His great court awareness helps Bonga to understand how plays may unfold, allowing him to be in the right positions to make a play. A good weak side defender, Bonga is quick to help his teammates on drives, seldom found out of position as the first help defender. However, he is sometimes late rotating as the second helper, closing in on the open man late.
Offensively Bonga continues to show why he is such a special talent. At 6’8 he often takes over the point guard duties, showing an extraordinary ability to make plays as both a scorer and a passer. He had nine assists in his first game with Frankfurt, as his assist tally could have been higher given not all passes were converted. In the few months since the European Championships in Kaunas Bonga seems to have better control on drives, as well as he seems to have mildly improved on his finishes with either hand.
At this point of his development Bonga is a lot more effective with the ball, showing an uncanny ability to make plays. However, he needs to become more adept at moving without the ball in his hands. Also, though he improved in terms at finishing still somewhat struggles in this regard, as well as continues to struggle with short floaters similarly as he did in Kaunas.
Although making 4 out of 10 three point attempts in three games is only a small sample size and he is shooting an abysmal 58% from the free throw line, Bonga’s shooting motion looks promising. Equipped with a more fluid shooting motion, he does not look as mechanical and isn’t as hesitant to hoist up long range shots as he was not too long ago. With time and repetition Bonga should become more confident and consistent with his shot.
Though there is quite the crop of intriguing players emerging from the German basketball landscape, Bonga may even be the player with the highest potential. Similar to his physical make up at this point, his game seems to still be in the beginning stages of its development, displaying a lot of room for growth.
Bonga is loaned to Brose Baskets Bamberg for the Adidas Next Generation Tournament in L’Hospitalet Jan. 4-6.
Hendrik Drescher 6’8 230 (‘00, C, TuS Lichterfelde)
It is interesting to watch Hendrik Drescher -at the pic- on the JBBL level, as currently no team in the U16 league seems to be able to find a match for him, as he presently dominates game after game. At this point the main question is if competing in the JBBL exclusively is beneficial to his development, as he continuously players against physically inferior opponents.
Given Drescher is physically more mature than his counterparts; he has been able to dominate through his physicality alone. However, he has shown the ability to impact the game in more ways than his sheer strength. Shooting 50% from the three point line, going 6 out of 12 in six games, shows the ability to step away from the paint every now and then.
Nonetheless, despite jumps in every statistical category, there are no apparent improvements in terms of his skill set. Usually using his physical superiority to dominate his opponents, he hardly search for other ways to score around the basket except for use of his sheer strength. This begs the question why his organization doesn’t allow him to play in the organizations NBBL team or in one of the numerous men’s leagues in Berlin in order to assure a further development in his skills.
Given his main struggles, as well as the German national teams struggles, at the U16 European Championships in Kaunas came against physically strong teams, displaying an unfamiliarity of playing against players who match his physicality or even exceed it. On paper his average of 28.7points per game on a field goal percentage of 65% paired with 13.5 rebounds per game looks very impressive. However, in order of being able to gouge how good he truly could be, it is important to further keep track of his output in the future once his competition is up to par with him from a physical aspect.
Richard Freudenberg 6’8 181 (‘98, SF, Bayern München)
Heralded as the ‘übertalent’ of Germany’s ’98 generation, Richard Freudenberg has been operating somewhat under the radar since his mediocre performances in this past summer’s U16 Championship in Greece in concurrence with the emergence of Mushidi.
However, there is still a lot to like about Richard Freudenberg. Possessing prototypical size for the smaller forward position at 6’7, at a mere 180 lbs
he hasn't fully grown into his body yet and he may not even have finished growing. Equipped with great mobility and having recently displayed an increase in athleticism shows Freudenberg still has room to grow physically and also as a player.
At this point in his development Freudenberg’s most prominent skill is his ability to stretch the floor by shooting the basketball with high precision from distance. Equipped with a very fluid shooting motion, the jump shot is not only Freudenberg's biggest asset, but also what his game is built upon. While a very capable driver, Freudenberg most often uses his jump shot to score. This season in the NBBL competition he interestingly has struggled shooting and creating his own offense in the mid range. While he shoots at a 44.7 percent clip from three point territory, he is at a mere 6 for 20 from the mid range area at this point of the season. It’s an area he has excelled in during Bayern Munich’s run to capture the U19 German Championship, as he was crowned the 2015 NBBL Final 4 MVP. Given he possesses quick and smooth shooting mechanics, paired with good balance and shiftiness allowing him to get his shot off whenever he wants, it will be interesting observe if he is able to raise his percentages and come closer shooting the 60% he shot from two point territory last season.
Defensively Freudenberg is immensely versatile having defended top German big men, as well as a few respectable wing players. However, he usually draws weaker opponents when defending on the perimeter, while he often draws the toughest assignment when paired with big men. This brings up questions about his ability to defend quick or crafty perimeter players. As a post defender he fares fairly well, however needing added strength to be effective as low-post defender on a consistent basis. His strength on the defensive end is the understanding of defensive schemes and overall team defense, as he knows his rotations, ready to help whenever necessary.
On the glass Freudenberg has great instincts and technique, in terms of blocking people out, to coral the defensive board. Understanding positioning and having good anticipation he rebounds at a relatively high rate in the NBBL at six rebounds per game. However, against higher level competition he still struggles somewhat due to body strength, which is something he should far better with over time and upon his body's further development. On the offensive glass Freudenberg is always a threat for second chance points whenever he is on the court.
His ability to put the ball in the basket, paired with an awfully high basketball IQ for his age, should bode well for him, as he is still growing into his body and has Therefore, his main focus, in terms of development needs to be his body, as he has to become stronger, which would help him in every facet of the game. Though struggling this season for his standards and even disappears over stretches of the game, Freudenberg is an exceptional prospect with the potential to become one of the best players the German basketball scene has seen thus far.
Freudenberg, and Bayern München, will play at the Adidas Next Generation Tournament in Belgrade Feb. 26-28.
Isaiah Hartenstein 6’11 233 (‘98, PF, Artland Dragons)
Considered one of the most promising prospects in Europe in the 1998 generation, Isaiah Hartenstein has never been shy to prove all of the attention he has received is warranted by performing well in both the 2014/2015 NBBL season and the U18 European Championships in Greece.
While Hartenstein proved he has to be mentioned when discussing the most intriguing prospects the European landscape has to offer, nonetheless he there were a few question marks concerning his development. Determining where he will spend the rest of his youth development, was a huge topic with a lot of suspense to it. However, Hartenstein decided to spend another year with the Artland Dragons before making a move to Zalgiris Kaunas.
With that settled, the other main issue was his questionable decision making. At 6’11 and 233 lbs equipped with a good jump shot, good athleticism and mobility, paired with good ball handling, good finishing ability and the ability operate inside, as well as from the perimeter, his shot selection was the main thing in question, as he clearly displays a ton of positive attributes. Interestingly he was able to improve in that regard immensely in merely a few months.
Although his scoring in the NBBL has dipped from 20.2ppg to 16.8 and his rebounding from 12rpg to 10rpg when comparing the 2014/15 and 2015/16 seasons, he has shown immense progress in his approach to the game. He has been able to raise his shooting percentages, as he now is operating more out of the flow of the offense, becoming a much more efficient player in the process. Shooting 50.8% from the field compared to the 40.2% he shot the previous year shows and astronomical improvement in terms of conversion rate, as he takes less ill-advised shots, allow the ball move and come back to him instead of forcing the action.
In addition he now averages more assists (from 2.5 to 3.8), while the amount of turnovers he committed decreased (from 3.7 to 1.8), all while playing close to 6 minutes less per game than he did in the previous season,. This exhibits Hartenstein is not only capable of improving in terms of his decision making, but he is also able to add new dimensions to his game. Watching him play, it is apparent there is an improvement in his court vision, more of a willingness to pass the ball or both, as he throws passes one would not have expected only a few months ago.
Another interesting aspect is that even though his field goal percentage has improved (due to decreasing his three point attempts from 6.2 to 2.7), he has been struggling with consistency in his jump shot and struggles shooting free throws as well (61.7%). However, he displays a smooth shooting motion with sound mechanics giving the assumption that he merely needs added reps to solve his shooting woes in the NBBL. Interestingly in the tougher ProB, the third highest level of play in Germany, he bigger chunk of his shots come from the perimeter with a higher conversion rate.
Given the high level at which Hartenstein steadily performs it is safe to say the high praise and expectations he garners is warranted. Furthermore, he displayed the ability to add new dimensions to his game, making him one of the most intriguing prospects to ever come out Germany.
Part 2 coming soon...
Germany has always been an afterthought when determining where the best basketball prospects in Europe a produced, as Dirk Nowitzki, Dennis Schröder and even Maik Zirbes and Tibor Pleiß are more so regarded as outliers than the norm. Though the Beko BBL (the German Bundesliga of basketball) wants to turn into the best local championship of Europe by 2020, the German talent has not been regarded as particularly promising over the last few years until the 1998 generation burst on the scene, displaying quite a number of talented young players who have what it takes to make noise the basketball world.