2018-18 statistics (in 22 games with Charlotte): 6.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. 50.6 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from 3.
Willy Hernangomez didn’t provide the Charlotte Hornets the kind of impact that previous mid-season trades had done before, but his acquisition provided the team with an intriguing prospect moving forward.
Acquired from the New York Knicks for Johnny O’Bryant III and two second round picks, Hernangomez gave the Hornets more talent and depth at the center position. (Side note: let’s take a moment to appreciate that Rich Cho managed to move two more second round picks in his final trade as Hornets GM. If there’s one thing he was consistent with to the very end, it was his ability to casually trade away seemingly every one of the team’s second rounders.)
And while we might curse the lack of late round draft picks later, Hernangomez’s play in 22 games suggests the trade was well worth it. His original desire to get more playing time wasn’t immediately granted, but it was clear when he did play that his ability far exceeded O’Bryant’s. He posted a total win shares of 1.5, finishing positive on both sides of the ball. The sample size is small, of course, but Hernangomez often played with rotational or end of bench players and yet remained a net positive.
Hernangomez’s offensive ability shined most, particularly towards the end of the season. He scored in double figures in five of the team’s last six games, shooting 60.6 percent during that stretch. He shot best at the rim, but showed glimpses of extending his range to beyond the arc. He is by no means a perimeter threat at this point, but that could change depending on how much focus he gives shooting this summer. While he only attempted 2.8 free throws a game from February to the end of the season, but shot 75 percent from the line and had two games late in the season where he went 11-for-14 and 6-for-6 from the line. Drawing more fouls next could translate to easy points for him.
Improving his post defense should be a priority, however. Despite finishing a net positive on that end, Hernangomez was often pushed out of position by stronger centers. He also doesn’t have the quickest feet either, which makes him a bit of liability guarding from the perimeter. He rebounded fairly well on the defensive end, but adding strength and better post positioning could help round out his game. If he is able to improve in the post, he could then turn to improving his lateral quickness (I’m not expecting all of this to develop in one offseason though).
At 23 years old, there’s a lot to like about Hernangomez’s future. For starters, he’s on a rookie contract for the next two seasons at $1.5 and $1.7 million per season. Given Charlotte’s lack of cap space, having a player like him gives the Hornets options. Specifically, he potentially makes Dwight Howard or Cody Zeller expendable. Moving Howard would free up more cap space this summer, but I imagine moving him won’t be easy. Zeller’s contract remains fairly team friendly, but his recent stretch of injuries this season and last is cause for concern (it hurts to say this given how impactful Zeller is when healthy).
Hernangomez isn’t ready to be a starter at this point, but he figures to make a push for the rotation next season. With all the talk of player development, the Hornets would do well on maximizing his potential.