Juancho Hernangomez was selected with the No. 15 pick in the 2016 NBA draft and was a bit of an unknown to many before Summer League last July. He played in Spain and was not expected to join the Nuggets this season but after a solid showing in Las Vegas, he worked his way into Denver’s rotation for portions of the season and was sent down to the D-league for just one game all year.
Hernangomez finished his season averaging 4.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 0.5 assists in 13.6 minutes per game but was efficient and versatile for a rookie. He played shooting guard, small forward, and power forward for stretches while shooting 45.3 percent from the floor and 41.1 percent from three point distance.
Overall, it was an encouraging season for Hernangomez, one that firmly plants the 21-year-old in the Nuggets’ core group of players for years to come.
What grade would you give Hernangomez’s rookie season?
Harrison Wind (@NBAWind): A
Joel Rush (NuggetsDenJoel): A+
Kalen Deremo (@PrincePickaxe): A
T.J. McBride (@BSN_McBride): A
Harrison: I expected Hernangomez to start the year in Europe because there wouldn’t be enough playing time in Denver for him, and I was definitely incorrect. It was a great choice to bring him over and get him integrated with the organization and the locker room. He was a stud on offense, from three and relentless attacking the rim. He also has the feel of a plus-defender on the wing a tenacious rebounder. Hernangomez should be a great two-way player for years to come.
Joel: Going into the season, it seemed that with so many players ahead of him on the depth chart, Hernangomez would not get much, if any playing time at all, let alone become a significant contributor. But as opportunities opened up, he did just that, emerging as one of Denver’s more reliable catch-and-shoot perimeter scorers, finishing the season third on the Nuggets in three-point shooting at 41.1 percent, and earning high marks for exceeding expectations.
Kalen: Based on where he was drafted and expectations heading into this past season Hernangomez was the most impressive Nuggets’ rookie. He was the team’s third-best three-point shooter all year and finished above 40 percent from downtown as a rookie — which is unheard of, especially from a power forward.
T.J.: Hernangomez, when selected, was not expected to make the Nuggets roster this season, so the fact that he was able to not just play but look the part of a legitimate NBA rotation player was quite the surprise. Hernangomez is worthy of an A regardless but his 27-point, 10-rebound performance, in which he made six three-pointers, in a win over the Golden State Warriors would have been enough for me on its own.
What aspect of Hernangomez’s game did he improve on the most this season?
Harrison: I’ll go confidence. Not just on the court but in the locker room as well. Hernangomez seemed so much more comfortable around his teammates and media towards the end of the season.
Joel: Defense. Despite his wiry frame and inexperience, Hernangomez was – at times – able to make his mark on the defensive end of the court, largely through putting in great energy and effort. He still has a long, long way to go to becoming a consistently solid defender, but assuming his body fills out, his potential on D looks much brighter than a year ago.
Kalen: Hernangomez didn’t improve much because he didn’t play all that much either. Like fellow rookie Jamal Murray, Hernangomez seemed to display more confidence as the season progressed but his solid play stayed constant nearly all year long.
T.J.: His work ethic. Hernangomez was known as a gym rat prior to being with Denver but, from the words of his teammates, Hernangomez’s work ethic went much further than that. After the win over the Warriors, in which he had a career-high 27 points on six made threes, multiple of his teammates joked in the locker room during media availability that Hernangomez was probably already back on the practice court getting more shots up. Thanks to his insane work ethic, Hernangomez was able to not just come over to the NBA this year, but prosper.
What does Hernangomez need to work on this upcoming offseason?
Harrison: Strength. If Denver can make Hernangomez into a full-time four that can stretch the floor but also bang down low, him alongside Nikola Jokic is a scary duo.
Joel: Bulk and strength. Despite showing some surprisingly impressive defensive skills, Hernangomez simply lacks the physical size and strength to competently defend against the league’s bigger forwards. Especially if at it seems, the Nuggets want Hernangomez to play a lot of power forward minutes, Steve Hess will need to help him put on some weight and muscles so he can hold his own.
Kalen: His defense and foot speed. I don’t see Hernangomez as a small forward as many have suggested. He’s simply too tall, too good at rebounding and too stiff — at the moment at least. If he can improve his foot speed so that he can guard the perimeter he’ll become one of the most valued young prospects in the entire league.
T.J.: I have to echo the others and go with gaining muscle and get stronger. Hernangomez’s potential ceiling is predicated on his ability to play power forward and create mismatches. For him to be able to play power forward consistently he needs to get bigger and stronger. Hernangomez has a body type that has room to pack muscle onto and this should be the summer that he focus on developing his body.