Juancho Hernangomez largely went unnoticed around the NBA last season. Playing less than 1,000 minutes as a mid-first round pick from Spain, it’s easy to fly under the radar. For as unassuming as Hernangomez can be though, he is just as amazing at a number of things on the basketball court.
First and foremost, Juancho is an incredible shooter, and when I say incredible, I truly mean it. While the sample size is still small, what the Spanish forward accomplished at his size is unprecedented for a player in his role. He shot 40.2% from behind the three point line, and for rookies who matched his number of attempts on less than 1,000 minutes a night, only four in the history of the NBA have matched him.
Eliminate the minute criteria, and only five rookie forwards in history have been as efficient in their first season: Larry Bird, Mike Miller, Paul Pierce, Vladimir Radmonovic, and little Juancho.
Now, Juancho isn’t likely to be Larry Bird shooting the ball. He may never become Miller or Pierce as a shooter either. Still, it’s encouraging to see Juancho among some elite shooters based on what he’s accomplished so far.
Beyond shooting, Hernangomez is a truly solid rebounder for the forward position. He has a nose for rebounds on the offensive and defensive glass. Last season, he maintained a 12.3% rebounding rate. By comparison, Danilo Gallinari has never once achieved a rebounding rate in the double digits, and Wilson Chandler has never exceeded such a rate throughout his career.
The best part about Juancho’s game though? He sticks to his role. He was on the floor last year to play defense, hit catch-and-shoot threes, and cut to the basket for dunks and layups. And that’s exactly what he did. Going through every single made basket, only three of his made field goals come outside of the restricted area and not as a three pointer. His shot chart is ridiculous (via Vorped).
Watching him play, it really isn’t surprising either. He lets other player create off the dribble, using dribble handoffs, out of the post, and through other ways while Juancho constantly relocates around the arc and cuts to keep defenses honest. With a variety of playmakers in the first and second units, Hernangomez can be injected into almost any lineup successfully because defenses must respect his elite shooting. He may not post huge individual numbers, but his impact on the offense comes from what the defense is forced to do while he’s on the floor, not necessarily what he actually does.
Fast forward to the 2017-18 preseason, and we have seen more of the same from Hernangomez, with some added skills and knowledge on the defensive end. He’s averaging 17.4 points per 36 minutes on 47.1% from behind the arc, and that includes a less than stellar goose egg against the San Antonio Spurs. He’s been productive, active, and efficient, everything that the Nuggets need from their complementary pieces going forward.
At this point, we know three things about the upcoming rotation:
- Seven players are currently set: Jamal Murray (as starter or backup), Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic, Will Barton, and Mason Plumlee. All seven hold distinctly important roles.
- Another point guard will be in the rotation, whether as a starter or backup. Emmanuel Mudiay and Jameer Nelson seem to have equal footing in that department.
- Michael Malone prefers a nine-man rotation.
The major hole in the rotation at this point is at the backup forward positions, but with Millsap likely to shoulder heavy minutes at the 4, Plumlee playing the 4 in some bigger lineups, and Chandler playing the 4 in some smaller lineups. A backup 4 that strictly plays backup 4 would likely play too few minutes to be happy about things. A backup combo forward though? That makes sense in this context. It just so happens that the Nuggets have the perfect bench combo forward just ready to play next to Jokić, Millsap, Murray, Harris, Plumlee, and all of the playmakers in the team’s rotation.
Malone has explored different combinations with the backup forwards, and when going with full bench lineups, he has put Juancho at the 3 and one of Trey Lyles or Kenneth Faried at the 4. In Malone’s ideal world though, the nine man rotation would keep one starter at the floor at all times, most likely one of Harris, Chandler, or Millsap. If one of Lyles or Faried becomes the ninth man, it becomes difficult to play Millsap with bench lineups, putting the Nuggets in a bit of a bind. If Juancho is the ninth man? Things become infinitely easier?
Here are a few examples of bench lineups plus one starter that work well with Juancho as the ninth man (this assumes Mudiay earns the backup point guard spot):
Mudiay - Barton - Juancho - Chandler - Plumlee
Mudiay - Harris - Barton - Juancho - Plumlee
Mudiay - Barton - Juancho - Millsap - Plumlee
Mudiay - Barton - Juancho - Plumlee - Jokić
All four of these lineups should at least be reasonable combinations for Malone to use to stagger the rotation while most of the starters rest. All four include the four bench players assumed to be in the rotation, and depending on how the game is going, the team would only have to survive with lineups like these for 10-12 minutes a night. With Juancho’s spacing, rebounding, and improved defense, it’s possible that all four of them could be positive groupings. Neither Lyles nor Faried plays small forward, so playing the latter two lineups would be impossible with one of those two out there.
With Juancho, everything becomes easier. If Juancho is hitting shots, he can carry the bench through stretches of games. If the Nuggets need added spacing to the Millsap-Jokić combo, what better trio is there to put on the floor then Murray, Harris, and Hernangomez?
If the Nuggets go with a 10 man rotation, Hernangomez will almost assuredly be a part of it. If it’s just nine, it’s less of a guarantee, though at this point, it should be. Juancho has demonstrated that he deserves to be out on the floor this year, and not just in favorable situations. The 22-year-old still has a lot to learn, but he must do it on the court and capitalize on what is already a promising skillset.