Charlotte Hornets: Analyzing The Vital Backup Center Role

Charlotte Hornets, NBA, Willy Hernangomez
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Willy Hernangomez

Despite his below-average athleticism, Hernangomez has a good feel for the game. Around the basket, he has more of an old-school style offensive game, and his high IQ triggers efficiency. Per, he converted on 60.6% of his field goal attempts within 8-feet of the hoop in 2017-18. Not an elite mark, but a solid one for a young player that lacks athleticism and doesn’t play above the rim.

He loves to use his strength to back down defenders, drop-step, spin and finish with crafty hook shots with either hand.

Hernangomez is also an advanced rebounder for such a young player. He averaged 7 rebounds per game (4.6 defensive rebounds, 2.4 offensive rebounds) in only 18.4 minutes per night during his rookie season in New York. Very impressive. Per Basketball-Reference, in 2016-17 Hernangomez was one of only three players in the league during the first five seasons of their careers to play at least 1000 minutes, carry an offensive rebound percentage of 13.8, a defensive rebound percentage of 27.0 and contribute at least 3 win shares for the year. The other two: Andre Drummond and Rudy Gobert.

He doesn’t play above the rim, but Hernangomez has learned to use his frame to squeeze out real estate around the rim and create second chances on the offensive glass.

The next frontier of Hernangomez’ offensive game is the three-point line. Combining last season and 2018 Summer League play, he is 10-25 (40 percent) from behind the arc. Yes, an extremely small sample size, but Hernangomez showed a willingness to get the outside shot up regularly in Vegas this summer – 3.25 three-point attempts in 28 minutes per contest over four total games. It’s obvious that stretching his range beyond the arc is a developmental point of emphasis.

If Hernangomez can step out as the center and knock down corner triples at a respectable rate during the next few seasons, Charlotte’s second-unit offense will undoubtedly take a big step in the right direction. James Borrego will be stressing more floor spacing and utilization of the corner three-pointer, so this is clearly an area where Hernangomez has an advantage on Biyombo.

The defensive side of the ball is where Hernangomez struggles. In a 72 game sample size in 2016-17, he had a defensive real plus-minus rating of 0.40, good for 52nd of 67 qualified centers.

Mentioned earlier, he’s a below average athlete and you begin to see the real effects of that on his overall game defensively. Hernangomez struggles in pick-and-roll coverage due to the lack of ability to move his feet and keep the ball in front.

Some of the issues defensively for Hernangomez are fixable. Learning to get deeper into a stance, having wide arms and sliding your feet are all possible without having elite athleticism. That said, as you see with many players in this league, defense begins with a “want to” factor. Hernangomez will have to overcome that mental hurdle.

Cody Zeller should be a great defensive mentor for Hernangomez. Zeller, much the same, is a limited athlete, but his effort level, on-court awareness, and understanding of angles have helped mold him into an effective NBA defender.

Next Up: Bismack Biyombo

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