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Charlotte Hornets player preview: Can Willy Hernangomez be the Hornets starting center?

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The third-year pro can boost his playing time this year by impressing in preseason.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets-Media Day Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Charlotte Hornets have a history of established big man. Faces like Alonzo Mourning, Vlade Divac, Emeka Okafor, and Al Jefferson have all had success under the starting five spot. Last year, that trend came in the way of former three time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard. Chemistry concerns topped the factors that eventually lead to his departure from his team in June.

With Howard gone, the iconic position is up for grabs for the Hornets. Currently, the team has four notable candidates that could take that position, including Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky, Bismack Biyombo, and Willy Hernangomez.

Today, we are going to focus on the last candidate listed, Willy Hernangomez. Although his stint for the Hornets was small last season, he still showed his capabilities on the court.

Hernangomez provides the most versatility on offense out of the group.

On the low block, Hernangomez is by far the best post player on the team. He has a multitude of moves in the paint which makes it difficult for defenders to guard. Throughout his rookie season, where he received All-Rookie Second Team, he used those moves inside to provide a large quantity of his offense.

One thing to note is Hernangomez’s body transformation over the offseason. With eight pounds lost between the end of the season and July, he continued to shape his overall physique by gaining a sustainable amount of more muscle. The new body looks to be more suitable for more contact down low than before. With the Hornets spreading the floor more, Willy should have more room to do his thing down low.

One of the more developing attributes of his game is his outside shot. After hitting only 27 percent from 3 his rookie season, Hernangomez has slowly begun to become a reliable target from downtown. He’s developed the confidence to let it fly as throughout the summer league and preseason, he has shown the willingness to shoot those shots beyond-the-arc. This shooting touch can dramatically alter the Hornets lineup combination as his new spacing ability can allow him to play with non-shooters in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

He has also proven to be an excellent passer for a big man. His time on Spain’s national team has influenced him into the playing style of overseas centers. Similarly to the Gasol brothers. Hernangomez has an above-average IQ on the court, and as a result, has the ability to dish out passes that are rarely seen in today’s NBA.

His rebounding has also gone under the radar. Although he only averaged 11.9 minutes per contest, he was still able to bring down an impressive 5.3 boards. You stretch that out to 36 minutes, and he averaged 15.9 rebounds. To be fair, these numbers were in the “garbage time” stretch of games, but it is still something to consider. The increase of muscle mass on top of his proven success on the class make him an ideal center for whenever the Hornets decide to run a transitional playstyle of defense. Hernangomez could be the one crashing the class, setting up more opportunities in the fastbreak.

When talking about a potential lineup change, we have to remember that familiarity is important. If a player isn’t familiar with his other teammates play styles in a particular lineup, then there could be some confusion and roadblocks at least early on. But Hernangomez does have that starting experience, albeit in only one game. During that fourteen minute stretch with the starting lineup of Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Marvin Williams, he played his best basketball that whole season. By inserting him into the lineup at center, the team’s point percentage rose 25 percent while the rebounding rose 13 percent. It’s evident that Hernangomez has had an impact with the starting players on the Hornets.

Overall, Hernangomez can determine his own destiny this year. He has the most potential under all the Hornets center options, and although his time with the Hornets has been significantly smaller than his teammates, he could very well leapfrog them in the rotation.

The only question remaining is if he’s willing to work for that spot. So far, it appears he is.