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Willy Hernangomez is a Per-36 Minute All-Star

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The fourth-year enigma doesn’t get on the floor very much, but he produces big time when he does.

San Antonio Spurs v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Most of the players on the Charlotte Hornets roster can be neatly classified between the young core who will be part of the on-going rebuild and the veterans who won’t be. The one player who continues to float between those two groups, however, is Willy Hernangomez. The 6-foot-11 center is in the final year of his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

Those of us who follow the Hornets know Willy can put up good scoring and rebounding numbers, but he’s a defensive liability when he’s on the floor. Willy’s defensive shortcomings are the main reason why he’s only averaged 14.4 minutes per game over his four-year career, including just 12.1 minutes through 31 games this year.

Look, I know NBA basketball isn’t fantasy basketball. If a guy can’t play defense, he simply can’t play starter’s minutes. And that’s the frustration I have with Willy. The dude puts up awesome per minute traditional stats in points and rebounds when he’s on the floor. In fact, he’s what I like to call a “Per-36 Minute All-Star.” Over the last two seasons Hernangomez has averaged 18.5 points and 13.5 rebounds on a per-36 minute basis. That puts him in elite company. According to Basketball Reference he’s one of just seven centers to register those numbers (min. 1,000 minutes played):

Centers averaging 18.5 pts & 13.5 reb per-36 mins, last two seasons

Name PTS per 36 REB per 36
Name PTS per 36 REB per 36
Joel Embiid 28.9 14.4
Jonas Valanciunas 22.3 14.8
Jusuf Nurkic 20.5 13.6
Hassan Whiteside 18.9 16.9
Andre Drummond 18.9 16.7
Enes Kanter 18.9 15.0
Willy Hernangomez 18.5 13.5

Oh, Willy. When he’s on the floor he puts up per-36 minute scoring and rebounding numbers that are comparable with guys like Andre Drummond, Jonas Valanciunas, and Jusuf Nurkic. It’s just too bad he’s never been able to put things together on the defensive end to play more than a backup’s minutes.

One of the frustrations of having the 2019-20 season get suspended is Willy was starting to find a more consistent role in Charlotte’s system leading up to the COVID pandemic. Between January 28th and March 7th there were eight games in which Willy played somewhere between 18 and 23 minutes. He averaged 10.1 points and 6.3 rebounds in those games and was even playing some passable defense at times. With the season suspended we’ll likely never know if he could have closed out the year with some strong play.

Hernangomez turns 26 in May and is now a four-year NBA vet. Only time will tell if he will be back in Charlotte next season. At this point in his career he probably is what he is as a backup center with a few solid skills that are offset by other glaring weaknesses. But he’s also this: A Per-36 Minute All-Star!