Lucky. Never give up. Living the dream. Enjoy the process.
If you are paying attention to Juancho Hernangomez, these are some of the words you’re going to find him using frequently to describe life as a NBA player.
As a 21-year-old rookie, the Spaniard seems to be excited to have finally reached the NBA. Juancho signed with CB Estudiantes at the age of 17 in 2012, and after four years playing in the ACB, was drafted by the Denver Nuggets with the No. 15 pick in the 2017 draft.
While it originally seemed likely that Juancho would stay in Spain for another season before coming overseas, the Nuggets decided to bring him over as soon as they could. He began the season buried on the depth chart, getting sporadic minutes in the rotation as the team has dealt with injuries throughout the season. He got his first start on November 23, in a road game against the Utah Jazz, a game the Nuggets would proceed to lose by 25 points.
It wasn’t until recently that Juancho would begin to get consistent minutes, starting with a game against the San Antonio Spurs. It’s been a ridiculous stretch of opponents for the young forward since then, with Juancho suiting up against forwards like Kawhi Leonard, Harrison Barnes, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant.
Juancho’s coming out party came in the Nuggets game against the Golden State Warriors, where he poured in 27 points and 11 rebounds in his third career start.
That game against the Warriors put the league on notice about the Nuggets rookie small forward, with players around the league sending Juancho messages of support.
“Me ha mandado un mensaje Dirk Nowitzki, que me ha felicitado por el partido y me ha hecho mucha ilusión,” Juancho said in an interview with NBA Maniacs.
[Dirk Nowitzki sent me a message, congratulating me on the game, and that made me very excited.]
While it’s exciting to watch Juancho when he gets minutes, with the way the Nuggets roster is currently constructed, he’s not able to play often. He’s seen the court for just 512 minutes this season, the third-lowest total on the team, ahead of Mike Miller and Malik Beasley. He has played well in limited minutes though, shooting 42 percent on 3-point attempts while averaging three rebounds per game.
But what is most entertaining (for me) is his confidence when he’s on the court. He’s not afraid to dribble into the paint to try to jam on a defender, or get up in his opponent’s jersey on defense. He plays with great energy and hustle, always willing to do whatever it takes for the team to win when he plays.
That confidence has put him in some funny situations this season however, as his trash-talking has gone a little too far.
“Bueno, a mí me gusta también hablar un poco en la cancha y un día hablé un poco de más,” Juancho said in an interview with NBA Maniacs. “Jugamos contra Phoenix Suns y estaba Tyson Chandler. Y me miró con una cara como de ‘tú, pringado, con quién te crees que estás hablando’, y yo me cagué ya del todo. Yo ya no contesté más, me fui al banquillo y me escondí ahí (risas). Hay que tener cuidado con esta gente (risas).”
[Well, I also like to talk a little on the court and one day I talked a little too much. We played Phoenix Suns and there was Tyson Chandler. He looked at me with a face like 'Hey, loser, who you think you're talking to', and I totally shit all over myself. I didn’t say anything, I went to the bench and hid there (laughs). You have to be careful with these guys (laughs).]
Another positive about Juancho is how he’s been able to play well alongside Nikola Jokic (it’s hard not to play well with him, let’s be honest). When asked in the interview with NBA Maniacs about his ideal starting five, Juancho answered with Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan, and ... Nikola Jokic.
“Jokic is surely going to be an All-Star next year,” Juancho says later in the interview.
Juancho’s ability to stretch the floor, score on cuts to the basket, rebound, and play good one-on-one defense are all important tools for a player to complement Jokic in the frontcourt. He may not be asked to score 27 points every night, but his ability to be a scoring threat should be something that helps make him an above-average starter in the NBA.
As the trade deadline approaches, perhaps there is an opportunity for Hernangomez to receive more minutes in the Nuggets rotation. Hopefully the team doesn’t decide to trade one of the more exciting prospects on the Nuggets roster.
To read more of the interview with NBA Maniacs, click on the link here. It’s a fun interview, with Juancho answering questions about life in the NBA, what it’s like to play against his brother, his new Nike campaign, and Nikola Jokic. Give it a read!