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Juancho Hernangomez and the art of spacing the floor

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A deep dive on Juancho’s tricks off ball

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Denver Nuggets Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

There’s more to spacing the floor as an off-ball player than just being able to shoot. Shooting is a sort of prerequisite to being able to properly space the floor, but not every great shooter provides the same amount of gravity when operating on the weak side (away from the basketball). There are dozens of principles and tricks that the more crafty floor spacers can learn that will help them maximize their gravity. Denver’s third-year wing, Juancho Hernangomez, is already an elite floor-spacer and off-ball mover.

One off the basic principles for spot-up shooters playing off of the ball is to slide your feet in the same direction as the ball-handler. So if the ball-handler drives toward your direction, the spot-up shooter should slide in that same direction around the three-point arc.

In the clip below, watch how Juancho begins sliding his feet to the left just as Monte Morris also begins to drive to his left, attacking the paint.

The purpose of the slide is to maintain proper spacing and to provide the driver with a passing lane. Most defenders one pass away will try to stunt at the ball-handler, lunging and reaching their hand into the driving lane in an attempt to slow them down. By sliding his feet along the perimeter, Juancho makes Kyle Korver pay for that momentary support that he gives on the drive, sliding further away from his defender and into a new spot on the floor so that Korver has to first identify where he is before closing out.

The same principle is true when the ball-handler drives toward the basket in a direction away from the spot-up shooter. In the clip below, watch how Juancho sprints toward the top of the key as soon as Jamal Murray turns the corner driving toward his left. Murray drives left, so Juancho slides left, forcing his defender to pick between offering help defense or sticking with his man on the perimeter.

Most shooters in the NBA already do these two things but the timing and speed of the slide is what separates the best in the league. Klay Thompson is perhaps the best example in the league at these basic slides along the perimeter. Individual defensive assignments are always changing in the half court as a play evolves. One second a player could be responsible for sticking close to their man and the next second they are responsible for rotating into the paint to provide help on someone else’s man. A crafty offensive spot-up player will read exactly when the defensive assignments are shifting and begin their slide with the correct speed, keeping the defender guessing which way to go or making them pay for picking the wrong option.

The clip below illustrates Juancho’s incredible feel for this dynamic. Watch how he “dances” with his defender on the perimeter before ultimately finding himself wide open on the right wing, a spot quickly becoming known as Juancholand.

Juancho knows that the entire defense is going to shift as Trey Lyles begins his post-up. He also knows that Murray’s cut through the lane is going to shift help-side assignments in a way that will be difficult to navigate defensively. So right as Lyles begins to put the ball on the floor and back his man down, Juancho begins to slide left along the three-point arc.

Next, watch how quickly he shifts from sliding left to sliding right as soon as the ball is kicked out toward Malik Beasley. With Beasley’s man stunting down on the post, Juancho’s man rotates over to close out on Beasley and Murray exits toward the corner. Juancho perfectly splits the difference, creating the most space between all three guys, and knocks down the wide open jumper.

Juancho is almost always in the right place along the perimeter but his value as a floor spacer goes beyond just sliding around the perimeter. Like Klay Thompson, whom I referenced earlier, Juancho is also an excellent cutter. In the final clip below, watch how Juancho sets up his man to defend the dribble handoff (DHO) before short-cutting backdoor toward the basket.

This is a simple off ball move that elite floor spacers master and one that helps keep the ball poppin’ in the halfcourt. Both defenders in the DHO are put into a bind when they get caught off-guard with a short-cut. Larry Nance Jr. anticipates that Juancho will come off of the screen and either try to shoot or curl towards the basket so he steps up ready to wall off the paint. Korver anticipates having to chase Juancho though the handoff so he begins to jam Juancho’s space and position himself for the screen. When Juancho cuts backdoor, both players fall out of position.

He gets the and-one call but even had he not received the pass, the defense falls a step behind. This is what makes a free-flowing offense so dangerous when operated by players who can read and react in the halfcourt. Juancho is an elite spot-up shooter who increases the value of his shooting by how well he moves off-ball and spaces the floor. He’s still battling for minutes on a crowded Nuggets roster but he is one of the best options the team has offensively as a 5th option, off-ball floor spacer.