Willy Hernangomez has been one of the few shining lights for the Charlotte Hornets this season since his acquisition via trade in February. While averaging just 5.5 points, and 4.5 rebounds game in 19 appearances so far, his production has increased of late, including outings of 15 and 17 points in the previous two matchups against the 76ers.
What makes Hernangómez a player to keep an eye on going forward is his craftiness. At 6’11” and 240 pounds, he is able to use a variety of effective post moves towards the basket. This back to the basket play allows him to dish out and look for the open teammates like many foreign NBA players do. The Hornets haven’t experimented with such a dish-it-out play style since the great Al Jefferson.
Hernangómez has also adapted to the modern NBA. Unlike teammates Cody Zeller and Dwight Howard, Hernangómez has worked on and has improved on his deep range shot. He is currently shooting an impressive 50 percent from the 3-point line since joining the Hornets. This allows Charlotte to use a five-out offense when Hernangómez is playing alongside Frank Kaminsky or Marvin Williams. It also puts a lot of pressure on the opposing defense because they have to defend all five positions to prevent a 3-point make; an offensive system rarely used by the Hornets.
One major red flag, however, is his defense. Throughout his time in Spain and in the NBA, Hernangómez has been a liability on the defensive end, allowing defenders to seamlessly drive by and score. That was predominately why the Knicks traded him to Charlotte. However, these defensive woes can become non-existent due to new defensive strategies headlined by head coach Steve Clifford. The effort to “hide” a player on the defensive end has been seen by the Golden State Warriors and the Portland Trailblazers, so the establishment of a new defensive system is reasonable to enact. As a result, the Hornets would become a better team defensively because there would be more switches on defense.
Hernangómez also struggles rebounding. As a center, he is below the average threshold for rebounds per game in the NBA. A short-term solution is to allow Hernangómez to have more playing time which would help his rebounding numbers. A long-term solution is for Hernangómez to tack on another twenty pounds of muscle. As of now, it seems that he is not built as strong as his potential ensues. This growth in body mass, similar to what teammate Frank Kaminsky recently went through, could help Hernagómez grab more rebounds on both ends. This would also allow Hernagómez to become a tougher and stronger defender. If Hernangómez and the team execute these modifications, then he could become a positive contributor to the Hornets next season.
Hernangómez has a realistic shot of establishing himself as the new Hornets center in the short future because of the teams’ situation. With rumors of a rebuild swirling, the team could move Howard for younger assets. They also could deal out Zeller, who has been plagued by injuries the past two seasons, in order to create cap space as well. Moving either or both slides Hernangómez into a prominent role in the rotation next season.
Modern day centers need three major qualities: A can-do attitude, the ability to score in multiple ways, and the ability to become the alpha at times. All of these traits are seen in Hernangómez already and should grow more down the road. This poses a new question for Hernangómez: just how good can the new Hornets center become?