Fresh off a summer vacation that took Denver Nuggets’ swingman Juancho Hernangomez island hopping in the Mediterranean from Ibiza and Minorca, and then to the white sand beaches of Gran Canaria and the coasts of Cardiff, the 6-foot-9 forward was back in Denver Monday readying for his sophomore season.
It’s a bit different for Hernangomez this time around, who at this point last summer was a spry 20-year-old putting on his Nuggets threads for the first time after Denver selected him 15th overall in the 2016 draft.
“It’s completely different,” Hernangomez said when comparing last summer to now. “Before, I was trying to understand the NBA, the rules. When I came here for the first time everything for me was a new thing. Right now, I got one year experience.”
“Some guys are pretty nervous like I felt last year,” Hernangomez continued. “It’s been fun. I try to teach what I know, what I learned this year and try to build chemistry for next season.”
Hernangomez’s first year in the NBA was a successful one. After impressing Nuggets’ brass last summer in Las Vegas enough to keep him in the states rather than stashed overseas, Hernangomez saw action in 62 games (9 starts) averaged 4.9 points in 13.6 minutes per game and shot the ball well from three, converting on 40.7 percent of his attempts.
With Denver’s fluid rotation last season, Hernangomez played all over the court. He saw time at the three when injuries sidelined Danilo Gallinari or Wilson Chandler and slid down a spot to the four where some think he’ll play long term. Guarding smaller guard when switched out in pick-and-roll situations is where the Nuggets want to see Hernangomez improve the most heading into next year.
“He’s a three-four combo and the one thing that was probably new for him in the NBA, you’re switched onto a James Harden you get switched onto a Russell Westbrook and those guys, not just for Juancho, those guys are next level athletes,” Summer League coach Micah Nori said. “And to try and defensively to stay in front of all of them to be able to guard three, to guard fours. Continue to make the right play.”
Along with Malik Beasley, the other roster player from last season on Denver’s Summer League team, the increased level of comfort is obvious even through just one practice.
“It’s kind of like when you’re a high school freshman and you become a sophomore, same thing in college. It’s that second year and they’ve got their feet under them now,” Nori said. “Last year when they first start up it’s ‘Hey, what line am I going to? Where am I going for this?’ Now they can focus on their game.”
Every summer, Hernangomez says he writes down a list of goals. Besides his defense, the forward is focusing on getting his body ready for next year, making sure his shot stays consistent and improving his play in one-on-one situations.
But what Nori and the rest of Denver’s coaching staff (which includes NBA legend Jason Richardson for this week) loves about Hernangomez, is that he always brings energy and enthusiasm to the floor.
“The best thing about Juancho is he’s one of those guys that you gotta say ‘Woah’, rather than ‘Giddy up,'” Nori said. “And that’s what you always want to say because his energy is there and present every single day.”