The Charlotte Hornets were involved in constant trade rumors for the weeks leading up to the trade deadline. Surprisingly, the only trade sent Johnny O’Bryant and two future second round picks for Willy Hernangomez.
People expected another move to come after that, but that was it for the Hornets. On paper the trade makes sense, Hernangomez is a good, young and cheap. The price was low, and Charlotte saved a little money acquiring him. Problem is, Charlotte is deep in the frontcourt, and there might not be minutes available for Hernangomez outside of garbage time. Poor Hernangomez: he wanted to be traded from New York to get playing time and now might not get it.
Steve Clifford stated the next eight to ten games will decide whether Charlotte still chooses to make a desperate playoff push, or embrace the tank and play the young guys. Even though we had a close win (finally) last night against the dumpster fire that is the Orlando Magic, I doubt the Hornets make a serious push being 5.5 games out right now. Once they throw in the towel, we should see Hernangomez. Here is what the Hornets can expect from him.
Hernangomez is only 23 years old, and for the next two years, he is only going to make a little over a million per year. Charlotte needs cheap players with upside. Even though Hernangomez didn’t play much this season in New York, he showed a lot of promise his rookie season. He is a skilled offensive player, who is excellent as a roll man. As a rookie, he averaged 8.2 points, seven rebounds, 1.3 assists per game on 52 percent shooting from the field — impressive numbers considering he only played 18 minutes per game.
Here is what stood out to me about Hernangomez. (Disclaimer: I am focusing more on what I saw from Hernangomez during his rookie season, as this year he played mostly in garbage time and looked like a grumpy guess when he did play).
When he does play, the most significant thing Hernangomez can help the Hornets with is passing. Charlotte is a terrible passing team, and for a big Hernangomez is a pretty slick passer. In his rookie season, Hernangomez was 7th on the team in assist percentage and had an assist ratio of 13.4. This is impressive considering his usage was only 19.7 percent. Hernangomez is good at catching the initial roll pass then surveying the floor and either kicking out to a shooter or a cutter. Watch this nifty pass.
Willy goes to set the screen and does an excellent job of flipping his hips and rolling. He gets the pass and as soon as Bogdanovic comes over to help he finds Kristaps Porzingis for the cutting dunk. Simple, but the Hornets need more guys who make the right pass
He is an unselfish player, but it can get him in trouble sometimes. His turnover ratio of 14 is horrible. Typical for a rookie, but it was even worse when he played this year. Charlotte prides itself on being a low turnover team, and Hernangomez will have to improve this to earn Clifford’s trust. He gets himself in trouble during post-ups. Last year, he turned it over on 26 percent of his post-ups, which is a terrible mark. Plus, the Hornets already have a player who does that in Dwight Howard. To make matters worse, his score frequency was only 34 percent out of post-ups according to Synergy Sports. That’s why he ranked in the 13th percentile overall on post-ups. He has good footwork and touch, so there is the promise he can develop into a good post player one day but must cut down on the turnovers and get stronger first.
On the bright side, Willy is an excellent roll man. That is where he will fit perfectly with Charlotte once he plays. He is quite similar to Cody Zeller, except Zeller has a little more bounce. As a roll man in his rookie season, Hernagomez ranked in the 79th percentile with a 56 percent score frequency. Even more impressive was he only turned it over 9 percent of the time. Hernangomez can struggle to finish at the rim but has a nice mid-range game full of soft floaters and mid-range jumpers. He is a viable pick-and-pop option. Willy is also crafty and has a beautiful pump fake. His footwork is money. Watch this play!
Willy goes to set a ball screen, but then correctly slips it. He gets the pass, and Ibaka comes over to help. Hernanagomez hits him with a beautiful pump fake and steps through to finish with a nice finger roll. Willy is a good screener, who averaged two screen assists per game last season in only 18 minutes per game.
Hernangomez range is probably in the 15-17 feet range, but he has flirted with the three ball. For his career, he is only 5-for-20 from deep, but he has a decent stroke, so this could be a part of his game in a year or two. This year in garbage minutes he was randomly awful at the free throw line, but as a rookie, he shot a decent 72 percent from the charity stripe. Rookies tend to struggle at the line so this is encouraging, and he should be up in the 75-80 percent range soon with a little more practice and focus.
Willy is also terrific on the offensive glass, despite limited athleticism. Simply put, he understands positioning. He was second on the team in offensive rebounding percentage and ranked in the 67th percentile with a 58 percent score frequency on put backs. Being active can go a long way, watch this play.
Sasha Vujacic shoots a pull up jumper in transition. Hernangomez does a good job running the floor and then getting position under the rim. He taps it to himself and then finishes over three Nets defenders with the left. By the way, he is good with both hands.
Charlotte acquired Hernangomez with hopes he and Zeller could play together some. For this to work, Hernangomez would be the center and Zeller the four. Zeller has experience playing the four and is a little quicker defending skilled power forwards. Cody also has better range than Willy at this point. The problem playing them together is their strengths are the same on offense. They are both excellent roll man. My guess is Hernangomez will be Cody’s backup next year assuming Howard isn’t around, and they will play together some especially Frank Kaminsky isn’t around, either.
Of the top five lineups involving Hernangomez in his rookie season, he was the center in four of them. That is his best position. If he plays the four, it is best he plays with a rim protector. He may be able to play with Dwight some, but with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist also on the floor, spacing would be super tight. To make it work, Jeremy Lamb or my best friend Treveon Graham would have to come in. If he does play this year, I would expect it is with Cody, Frank or Marvin for spacing.
On to defense. Hernangomez was below average as a rookie, but not horrible. He needs to get a little stronger, as he struggled with post brutes the most as a rookie. He ranked in the 22nd percentile defending in the post. Against the pick-and-roll, Hernangomez was about average which is good for a rookie. He is not the fastest guy, but you can tell he has a high basketball I.Q.: he knows where to be. His awareness for a rookie was noticeable as he also ranked in the 75th percentile defending spot ups. Hernangomez is rarely in the wrong position if he is beat he is beat physically.
He will fit well in Clifford’s conservative scheme. While he does not offer much in terms of rim protection, he does not foul much either and is a good defensive rebounder. Hernangomez also has quick hands and posted an impressive 1.3 steal percentage. His awareness makes him a good team defender as he was fourth on the team in defensive rating as a rookie. The most significant areas of concern are when he has to defend in space and out on the perimeter. This play shows his limitations.
Hernangomez does not like to leave the paint, and if your guard who wants to get a midrange jumper, you should attack Hernangomez. In this play, Damian Lillard comes off a ball screen, and Willy just stands there to prevent a drive. He gives Lillard way too much space and doesn't even contest the shot. It was essentially a free throw for Lillard. Willy will have to get better at defending in space. In the meantime expect him to drop back on pick and rolls in Charlotte similar to Al Jefferson. Thanks to the Knicks film school for the footage.
Right now, the Hornets have a skilled big who shoots a high percentage, is a skilled passer, and a good rebounder on both ends. Defensively, he is slightly below average, but he is smart and will get better. Offensively, his ceiling is high. If he adds a post game or a 3-point shot, this is a guy who could one day average 17 points, nine rebounds and three assists per game (consider this my hot take of the season). Charlotte needs to find playing time for him sooner rather than later to keep him happy and engaged. If not this season, definitely next season. I would love to see him this year at the end of the season with Monk, Lamb, Bacon, and Graham, because why not? Charlotte fans we face a ton of questions this offseason, but I would be happy about Hernangomez’s potential. He can play and is only going to get better.