The 2019 FIBA World Cup is currently underway in China. Headlines regarding this event have been the coverage around the US National Team. This season, unlike previous campaigns, the squad is without top-tier NBA talent, which led to questions as to how the team would perform. Lead by former Hornets point guard Kemba Walker, the team was looking to gain momentum but ultimately lost embarrassingly to the French National Team in the semifinals.
One club that hasn’t resonated much with Hornets fans is the Spanish National Team. The ultra-consistent play of Marc Gasol is once again the identity of a group who’s been a prominent force in international play over the past decade and a half. They’ve come away with three medals during this stretch, including gold at the 2016 FIBA Games.
Fast forward to today, and Gasol is still giving international competition trouble through an array of offensive firepower. With Phoenix Suns guard Ricky Rubio running point, their offense has been running with a consistent flow throughout the tournament. But, one reserve who hasn’t been covered enough is Hornets center Willy Hernangomez.
The 25-year-old has simply been a force this summer. He’s going against opponents that are less than NBA-caliber, but he’s put in work nonetheless. Being able to identify angles near the rim, Hernangomez has done a great job creating opportunities for himself inside.
Taking a look at this play, Hernangomez establishes a good position from seven feet out off the pick-and-roll. He’s able to create enough separation to throw it down against his defender.
Hopefully, this southpaw flush becomes a norm for the big man this season.
Another area of Hernangomez’s game that has been impressive so far has been his athleticism. Although he has typically been seen as a slow-footed center through his career, the ability to change gears and accelerate has suddenly become a strong suit of his.
Here, watch as Hernangomez gains momentum off the pick and skies over for the alley-oop jam.
These two plays are great examples of the work Hernangomez put in this summer. If you take a look at his frame from a year ago, to now, you can see the difference in his body tone. He’s added a hefty amount of muscle to combine with his slimmed downed frame. This has to be the biggest transformation of any Hornets player, especially the new tattoo sleeve and hairstyle he’s rocking.
Flipping over to the defensive end and Hernangomez hasn’t demonstrated much improvement this tournament. He still experiences defensive miscues that shouldn’t occur for a player with respectable pro experience. Getting stuck on defensive pick and rolls are still a major red flag in his game, as are closing out his opponent from the three-point line.
One shining spot on this end has been Hernangomez’ rim protection. When left alone near the painted area, he’s able to locate an incoming shot and move his body in the best position to swat it away.
Having an interior presence like this should certainly be a welcoming gesture for Hornets fans. The team has severely lacked in defending the ball inside ever since Dwight Howard left the team. Going from fourth in the league to the middle of the pack is a major point of attack that the team needs to address.
Coming full circle, Hornets fans should be excited about what they saw in Hernangomez these FIBA Games.
This improved interior presence should at least patch up this gaping hole for Charlotte. If anything, it gives the group some reassurance when their opponents move the ball inside.
His offensive output has been apparent all throughout the tournament. He still produces quality buckets even when coming off the bench. If this scoring mindset were to continue over to the Hornets season, it will do great numbers to his uncertain role.
Of course, Hernangomez’ new physical stature poses a whole an unexplored dimension in his game that can be used as the season rolls along.
Willy Hernangomez is still developing, but this offseason demonstrates that he’s taking a giant step in the right direction.