Season Recap: Willy Hernangómez’s Readiness, Team-First Attitude Continue to Stand Out

by Sam Perley

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Not only did Willy Hernangómez provide the Charlotte Hornets with vital frontcourt depth throughout the 2019-20 season, he was the absolute true embodiment of an ideal teammate and hard worker along the way. 

Hernangómez began his fourth NBA season as the Hornets’ third-string center, making just 12 mostly inconsequential appearances between Opening Night and Jan. 8. He broke out for a season-high 15 points and six rebounds while playing in only the fourth quarter of a road loss in Utah on Jan. 10, opening the door a bit for some increased playing time. 

He then appeared in 11 of the team’s next 12 contests heading into the All-Star Break, posting averages of roughly eight points on 54 percent shooting, five rebounds and one assist off the bench. Hernangómez played in seven of the team’s final nine outings before the season was suspended on March 11, averaging seven points, seven rebounds and two assists. 

Putting up 6.1 points on 53 percent shooting, 4.3 rebounds and 0.9 assists in 31 reserve appearances this year, Hernangómez’s offensive footwork in the post and in-traffic rebounding were two elements of his game that notably stood out. But it’s his positive demeanor and selfless mentality that have always been his true calling card, regardless of the situation. 

“It was really, really fun to play out there with all my teammates, all my friends,” he said. “I feel a bit sad the way we ended the season. If we were able to play our last 17 games, it might have been a way different history, but we understand the decision the league made. I just feel sad, mad, angry the way we finished, but I think we know what we can be. We’re going to take those emotions as motivation. We’ll work out this summer and be ready for next year.”

He added, “Nobody really knows just how much effort we put in to get better this season. As a new team, it took us a couple months to click, to play really together, to understand things together. We were having fun out there, playing hard, beating playoff teams. I think we had a good chance to make the playoffs, but now, we have to use that as motivation.”

Hernangómez was on track to play for his native Spain – the reigning FIBA World Cup Champions – at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, but those plans have been postponed for a year because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. That’ll make an already lengthier offseason even longer, although the 26-year-old is unsurprisingly looking on the bright side of the unusual predicament. 

“I was very sad that they moved the Olympics, but I tried to look at the positive side. I have six months to improve on everything and be a much better player. I’m trying to organize my summer, spend time with my family. I’ve been talking with Mitch [Kupchak], JB (James Borrego) and the assistant coaches about what the next steps are for me to be a better player.”

Hernangómez will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason and while he has returned to Spain for now, he plans to be back in Charlotte “as much as [he] can, working out with the coaching staff and teammates,” later on this summer. 

“This is going to be my first time being a free agent. I’m going to try and enjoy the experience and be patient. I’ve said many times that I love Charlotte. I love the group of guys that we have, the coaching staff. I’m trying to be a part of the future and the young core that we have. I feel at home in Charlotte, and I would love to stay. It’s going to be a long summer, but I would definitely love to stay, for sure.”

“The most important thing right now is to try and be safe. With the situation all over the world, it’s time to take care of our bodies, our families, our friends. I’m staying focused and getting better every day. Free agency is far away, so it’s going to be a long summer of work.”

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