Over the next few weeks, the Denver Stiffs staff will be previewing the 2016-17 Denver Nuggets. The team enters Michael Malone’s second season with the Nuggets with a mix of new and familiar faces. With a roster mixed with young talent like Jamal Murray and more experienced veterans like Wilson Chandler, the Nuggets are looking to improve on their 33-49 record from last season.
Coming in at #12 for the Nuggets in a poll of Denver Stiffs writers is Juancho Hernangomez, the rookie power forward from Spain drafted #15 by Denver this year (and stole from Boston who wanted him a pick later, leaving their war room looking like a morgue). Hernangomez was not expected by most to play for the Nuggets to start the year due to the glut of front court players already under contract. He declined an invitation to the Spanish Olympic Team, however, in order to play at Summer League and make his case for playing time this year. Hernangomez played so well the Nuggets traded Joffrey Lauvergne for two second-round picks to secure Juancho a roster spot.
The Spaniard is a hard player to pin down a position for, which could be good or bad. He is built more like a small forward right now at 6’9 and a slender 225 pounds and his perimeter game looks like it will allow him to step out and be a threat, but he is a hustling ball magnet on the offensive boards and crafty in the paint, able to get to the line and sink those as well. If Nuggets strength and conditioning guru Steve Hess can get some meat on his bones this year he may wind up as the more offensively-versatile replacement for Kenneth Faried, much as Faried himself once made Nene replaceable.
Hernangomez has a non-stop motor - a key for a paint player who lacks elite size or strength. His want-to down near the glass is second to none, and as our own Adam Mares talked about after Summer League he has a high basketball IQ when it comes to drawing fouls and snagging boards. He has decent feet and good explosion for his first jump, and likes competition. Toughness is never going to be a question, which is good: he’ll be seeing a lot of men bigger than he is in the paint at the NBA level.
His shot is also Euro-strong, giving him range out to the three point line and a decent free throw shot that should get better over time. He is a willing passer and moves without the ball just as easily. That motor runs at both ends, which makes it hard to see his NBA career falling much below what Eduardo Najera staked out even in a downside view of his skills - and leaving him the potential for much more.
Hernangomez will face the same problem most Europeans do in their first NBA year: the game is faster and stronger, and they simply haven’t been in the gym enough to dominate out of the gate. He is a bit light to face all the bangers in the Association, and that may limit his early success against bigger lineups. He’s more likely to find his success as a small-ball 4 or even 5 in the early going and would do well to learn from Darrell Arthur, a similarly-sized player who still manages to turn in good defensive performances.
Both sides of his game will need to be refined - his coach in the ACB league had him playing center a lot, and he was not necessarily working on things he will be asked to do more often in the NBA. His free throw form is fine, but he’ll need the reps to get the production higher than the 71% he shot last year. It may take Juancho a few months to get used to the fast perimeter players and stout interior ones, and for that reason he may not see a ton of minutes in the early going.
Projected 2016-17 Season Stats
Hernangomez has no projected stats from Hashtag Basketball. The Nuggets don’t make life easy on the projection guys with all their international players and three-deep positional battles.