Ahead of the 2016 NBA draft, Spanish big man Juancho Hernangomez seemingly emerged from the ether to shoot up on everyone’s big boards. In short order, some were comparing him to the likes of Danilo Gallinari and former Boston Celtics star Gordon Hayward.
Five years later, he’s still trying to cement his spot in the Association. However, the 26-year-old has no shortage of confidence in his ability not just to earn a roster spot, but to have a major impact on the Celtics, who acquired him from the Memphis Grizzlies for Kris Dunn and Carsen Edwards in mid-September.
“I know the player I am, I know my skills, and I think I can bring that to the table, you know, open the floor, playing without the ball, rebound the ball, and fighting every possession,” Hernangomez said at Boston’s September 27 media day.
“I think that’s huge for the team, I know how hard they compete, and I want to be on the same level, to help them.”
Juancho’s Rollercoaster Ride
Despite entering the league as a 15th overall selection, it took Hernangomez three years to really get his feet wet as a key contributor. During that time, he contended with positional battles, adjustment to the NBA game, a gnarly bout with mononucleosis and the usual bumps and bruises that players incur.
He played well, though, during the 2018-19 season when he made 70 appearances for the Nuggets (starting in 25 of them) and put up 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds in 19.4 minutes per game. Along the way, he posted an effective field goal percentage of 54.5 while taking 57.6% of his shots from three-point range.
Alas, he struggled to maintain the same level the following year and was eventually traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Initially, that move appeared to have unlocked something within him, as he closed out the 2019-20 campaign by logging a 13-7 line and hitting 42% of his triples with his new team. His numbers regressed last season, however. And, later, he suffered a dislocated shoulder that led to his falling out with the organization when it wouldn’t clear him for Olympic play.
Hernangomez asserts that the injury is a non-issue, though. “I’m 100 percent,” he said, adding, “I was ready to play in the summertime, too. I didn’t go [to the Olympics] but I’m ready to go.”
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Hernangomez Is an ‘Accentuator’
For his part, Celtics president Brad Stevens still sees untapped potential in the 7-foot Spaniard. At media day, he spoke at length about his belief that Juancho could even make his teammates better.
“Obviously, he’s a guy with his size and his shooting ability and his cutting ability that we think could accentuate some of our better players,” Stevens said. “I think Juancho is an accentuator. I think that he has the capability of doing that.”
Hernangomez’s off-ball movement clearly is something that has caught the former coach’s eye.
“I think one of his under-discussed great qualities is his cutting. And with all the attention that Jayson [Tatum] and Jaylen [Brown] get specifically, the right time to cut is an important quality. And so that’s one of the many things that drew us to him.”
Although he’s going to be duking it out with the likes of Enes Kanter, Grant Williams and Jabari Parker for his spot and playing time, that ability to complement his star teammates could give Hernangomez a leg up on the competition. That’s not lost on him, either.
“We gotta help them,” he said. “We know the defense of the opposite teams is obviously going to go against them. So all of us gotta help them to make them even better on the court. If it’s me cutting with the ball, help them relieve some pressure, I will do it. I think it’s a really good team and I’m really excited.”