Despite not playing for most of the year, Willy Hernangomez has provided the Charlotte Hornets with a spark off the bench in his last two games.
After playing in just 14 of the first 43 games for the Charlotte Hornets this season, Willy Hernangomez isn’t a name that typically comes up when talking about the team’s long-term future. During his past two games, though, Hernangomez has scored 29 points on 13-of-14 shooting in just 26 minutes of play.
His potential is evident every time he’s on the floor, leading many to question whether or not he could be a part of the Hornets’ future. At just 25 years old Hernangomez is still a young player with all the physical tools to succeed as a NBA center. The Spaniard was originally acquired by the Hornets at the trade deadline in 2018, but has never received consistent minutes during his time in Charlotte.
The fourth-year center is one of nine players on Charlotte’s current 15-man roster that is 25 or younger.
In a season characterized as a “youth movement,” it doesn’t make sense why the Hornets have failed to give Hernangomez much court time. He has played well in the minutes he’s gotten, and has far more NBA potential than either Bismack Biyombo or Cody Zeller at this point in their careers. Charlotte has preached player development all season long, and has for the most part succeeded in doing so. Devonte’ Graham, Terry Rozier, and PJ Washington have each proven they are worth keeping in the long run, while Miles Bridges, Malik Monk, and Dwayne Bacon continue to show potential. When he has gotten to play, Hernangomez has shown just as much promise.
From a raw talent standpoint, Hernangomez is undoubtedly the team’s best offensive center. Over 91% of Biyombo’s shots come from within 10 feet of the basket, and even then he’s not a particularly efficient scorer. Zeller has expanded his range over the past couple seasons, but he isn’t a consistent scoring threat and is perhaps best suited coming off the bench. Hernangomez on the other hand can score from anywhere on the floor and is much more efficient in doing so. In fact, his career shooting percentage on two-point attempts is better than either Biyombo’s or Zeller’s, and he’s doing it from everywhere inside the arc. Even from beyond the arc he is a much better shooter than either of Charlotte’s other two centers. Why the Hornets continue to play the others over him doesn’t make sense.
Hernangomez’s 36-minute stats show just how promising he really is. Over the course of his career, he is averaging 17.3 points and 13.6 rebounds per 36 minutes. His numbers with Charlotte look even better, at 19 points and 14.2 boards. While it’s a fair argument that most of the minutes he has played has come against lesser competition, it remains safe to say that he offers much more offensive upside than either Biyombo or Zeller. If the Hornets were to give Hernangomez consistent playing time down the stretch and he produces at even close to that rate, then he along with Rozier, Graham, Washington, and others, would provide the organization with an exciting amount of youth at every position on the floor.
Hernangomez’s contract is up at the end of the current season, so the remaining games will be huge in determining his future with the team.
Like Biyombo, Hernangomez’s contract is up at the end of the year, so the final 39 games of the 2019-2020 campaign are vital in regards to the big man’s future in Charlotte. The Hornets reportedly wanted him during the 2015 draft, but he was taken by the 76ers and traded to the Knicks immediately after the selection. The seven-footer showed a lot to like in his first year in New York, starting 22 games and being named to the All-Rookie first team. He has spent the past two seasons with the Hornets, playing in 94 games and starting just four. It would be a shame for Charlotte to lose such a promising young player without ever really giving him an opportunity.