January 19, 2018, 7:05 pm
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It really hasn’t been a good year for the Hernangomez brothers in the NBA and today it’s time to dive deep into the older brother and member of the New York Knicks, Guillermo (Willy). After an extremely successful rookie campaign where he was named to the All-Rookie First Team, averaging 8.2 points and 7.0 rebounds and leading all rookies in field-goal percentage (52.9) and double-doubles (11) he had high hopes for the 2017-18 season.
Unfortunately, the Knicks acquired Enes Kanter this summer and ended up with four centers in their roster, putting his minutes in jeopardy coming into training camp. What became clear after the first few games was that the Knicks were really looking to make the playoffs this year. Jeff Hornacek has opted to play Kyle O’Quinn instead of Willy Hernangomez as the team has a clear focus of rebuilding while playing competitive basketball. With multiple DNP’s already so far this season it has been a rough year for the Spaniard who is mostly out of the Knicks’ rotation even though the team values him and sees him as a major building block.
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For the New York Knicks, the 2015 NBA Draft was highlighted by the selection of Kristaps Porzingis with the No. 4 pick. Hernangomez was actually drafted by the Sixers in the second round (No. 35) but was immediately dealt to the Knicks for two second round picks and cash considerations. Considered as one of the best European prospects, Hernangomez played his first two seasons of professional basketball on the reserve team of local powerhouse Real Madrid.
He was heavily scouted at the 2013 U19 World Championship and during the 2014 U20 Euro Championship, where he made the All-Tournament team. The ensuing move to little-known Cajasol Sevilla had a tremendous impact in his basketball development. At the time, Sevilla was in serious turmoil because of heavy economic burdens so the team could only afford cheap, young players which they acquired (on loan from contenders like Real Madrid) in exchange for playing time that could help these players develop. And that was the first time that Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez teamed up playing for Sevilla’s prominent basketball club. A couple years later, he returned to Madrid and played for the senior team in the 2015–16 season, averaging 5.7 points and 3.3 rebounds in 34 games in the Spanish ACB League. The Knicks’ management team of president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry were very high on Hernangomez. Mills was actually the one who lobbied for the Knicks to trade with the Sixers for his rights as, while scouting Porzingis in 2015, he noticed the Latvian’s sidekick.
Polished Offensive Skills
Willy is the type of player every coach wants to have on their team as he requires little coaching and you really don’t need to draw anything up for him to be effective. He is fundamentally sound and has an old school style of game for the center position, characterized by toughness, physicality and strong work ethic. While he is not the most talented basketball player on the floor, he competes, he works hard and is a player who is always looking to add new elements to his game. Offensively, he understands angles and knows how to position his body in order to manufacture space. He uses both of his hands and has a soft touch and a complete post repertoire that comes with balletic footwork. He deploys a number of moves when operating on the block, burying defenders under the rim and making things really easy for himself by being physical. More than just a bully, Hernangomez possesses good touch, uses fakes well and has a variety of moves he uses to score over either shoulder with his back to the basket. Look at him getting the ball in the low post and slowly maneuvering his way against a bigger Jusuf Nurkic. This kind of ability to finish against bigger opponents is what makes him such a reliable scorer.
The Spaniard is only 23 years old but one of the more mature players in the league in terms of toughness and basketball and his instincts really allow him to compete with much more athletic opponents. An above average rebounder, even though he is undersized, he has a knack for putback dunks and tip-in shots as he is constantly outhustling his opponents. Look at him staying active while Tim Hardaway Jr. and Porzingis play the pick-and-roll. He establishes exceptional position just under the rim and finishes with a very easy tip layup shot after the missed shot.
Willy still needs to develop better offensive skills, especially from midrange, as almost 75 percent of his shots last year were inside the restricted area. Although he showed plenty of promise in his rookie season, his shot was generally missing. In order to improve team spacing and avoid the wear and tear from competing against bigger opponents an improved shooting game is necessary. Willy worked on this part last summer but unfortunately the playing time has not been there this season.
Overcomes Athletic Deficiencies with High Basketball IQ
Hernangomez is an undersized and below-the-rim athlete listed at 6’11” but seemingly shorter, most likely an inch or two. He is neither fast nor explosive and certainly doesn’t have the length of his role model, Marc Gasol. However, he is able to overcome this with his craftiness and basketball smarts. He is an underrated passing big who has shown the ability to find cutters in pick-and-roll and create assists even when the space is tight. Look at LeBron James falling asleep on his man Mindaugas Kuzminskas while Willy finds him for the open layup under the basket (classic LeBron blasting his teammates for his mistake, by the way).
He and Kristaps have also been very successful running the high-low pass the way Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins have done this year. Hernangomez has vastly improved his fouling (5.6 per 40 minutes in the Eurocup and 4.1 in the ACB) and turnover rates (3.8 and 3.9 respectively) in the NBA, as the game is slowing down for him due to his maturity.
Not a Consistent NBA-Level Defender
Defensively he is simply an effort guy who likes contact and doesn’t back down but that doesn’t always cover for his flaws. Measured at 6’11” in shoes, he is not explosive or athletic which makes him far from a reliable rim protector. Still, he is very active and skilled enough to create deflections (1.2 steals per 36 minutes) and even block some shots (also 1.2 per 36 minutes). He has a strong base and is hard to post up deep in the post but the main issue is in his pick-and-roll defense where he really struggles on switches. Since he is not so mobile, and even though his feet are decent, he gets picked apart easily by opponents. The Spaniard was completely exposed in a game against the Blazers last year. As soon as he entered the game, Terry Stotts run an ATO (after time out) play for Damian Lillard in order to attack Hernangomez’s weak defense. A simple pick-and-roll action that created enough space for the explosive guard to calmly execute the mid-range shot.
The problem is that while playing in Spain with a young team has helped Willy develop his game, it also has to do with the lack of defensive discipline. A couple plays later Lillard attacks him again, this time driving for an easy layup after Hernangomez is afraid to give him any room.
Perfect Match with Kristaps Porzingis?
Hernangomez was Kristaps Porzingis’ partner in crime in Sevilla and the two men have had excellent on and off court chemistry. Willy is almost the perfect complement to the young Latvian since he is a not-so-mobile center who needs to play with a stretch four that brings size to the table in order to avoid mismatches. He benefited last season from playing alongside KP, the ideal shot blocking presence from the power forward position that helps compensate for his limitations. Look at KP emphatically deny Channing Frye after Hernangomez’s weak pick-and-roll defense allowed for him to drive to the rim for an easy dunk.
In the 558 minutes the pair played together last year, New York scored 104 points per 100 possessions and surrendered 107.8 which shows the offensive potential but also the defensive challenge. The pairing of Hernangomez and Porzingis often looks ill-equipped to keep up with the modern NBA game. Both men are more comfortable defending from the back line as opposed to chasing shooters around the perimeter and with most teams keeping four shooters on the floor at all times the duo hasn’t seen much playing time this year.
Both Sides to Blame for Lack of Playing Time
The Knicks have reportedly put both Hernangomez and O’Quinn on the trading block but I can’t see them parting with a charismatic big who mixes finesse and touch around the hoop with bruising strength along with excellent screens and brilliant passing. At the same time it’s important for everyone, and especially Knicks fans, to keep their expectations in check as Willy is not the defensive force that the Knicks would like to put next to Kristaps Porzongis. Hopefully a trade will open more time for him and Jeff Hornacek will help him get his confidence back.
Hope you enjoyed reading this article and don’t forget to let us know about your favorite international prospect that you would want to learn more about in the next few weeks. Make sure you follow all of our breaking news and rumors on our brand new account @HoopBallFantasy .
Stats are courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of January 19th.