Denver Nuggets’ Juancho Hernangomez impressing during 2019 FIBA World Cup

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@Eric_Spyros

As the Denver Nuggets head into the 2019-20 season, minutes at small forward within Nuggets head coach Michael Malone’s rotation will have to be earned amid fierce competition.

If Juancho Hernangomez’s play in the 2019 FIBA World Cup is any indication, he is more than ready to prove he belongs among a group that includes Will Barton, Torrey Craig and talented rookie Michael Porter Jr., who sat out all of last season while recovering from back surgery.

Through four games, Hernangomez, a former first-round pick, is averaging 12 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, while playing just 23.3 minutes per contest. Hernangomez has also connected on 58.1 percent of his shot attempts, including 36.4 percent from beyond the arc.

In Spain’s first game of the tournament, Hernangomez was perfect from the field and dropped 13 points and 8 rebounds, which led him to be +15 over the course of the game. Hernangomez had a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds in Spain’s third victory of the group stage, and just followed that up with a 16-point, four-rebound game against Italy, which clinched Spain’s place in the knockout stage.

With 27 rebounds across four games (and 93 total minutes), Hernangomez is continuing to showcase his impressive rebounding from the forward position. In the NBA, the fourth year forward has averaged 7.4 rebounds per-36 minutes for his career, which can provide a big boost on both ends of the floor. Hernangomez’s offensive rebound percentage has consistently ranked at or above the 77th percentile for his career, according to Cleaning the Glass. Therefore, it’s not a coincidence that Denver’s team offensive rebound percentage has improved when Hernangomez has been on the floor in each of his first three seasons in the league.

What has also stood out about Hernangomez’s World Cup performance has been the confidence he appears to be playing with. The soon-to-be 24-year-old is attacking the basket with determination and has been very successful navigating inside the arc for baskets. Hernangomez has shot 70 percent on his 2-point attempts throughout the tournament.

While Hernangomez did receive ample opportunities early in the 2018-19 season, those minutes continued to fade as the season went on. Before the 2019 All-Star break, the 23-year-old forward averaged 7.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game across 22.5 minutes per contest. In fact, all of Hernangomez’s 25 starts came before the February break, and he averaged 11.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in those games.

After the All-Star break, Hernangomez struggled through a core injury and saw his playing time decrease as Gary Harris, Barton and Paul Millsap returned from injury. Now the competition for playing time is just as, if not more intense.

Of course, FIBA competition is much different than the players Hernangomez will go up against in the NBA. With Craig providing a tough, physical defensive presence for Malone and both Barton and Porter Jr. owning intriguing offensive skill sets, Hernangomez will have to carve out a niche role in the upcoming season. He can work to prove he is the best rebounding forward of the group, while consistent 3-point shooting would certainly go a long way in earning him some playing time. Before the All-Star break, Hernangomez connected on 39 percent from three, which dropped all the way down to 11.8 percent in his post-All-Star appearances.

As the Nuggets continue to look for the best combination of players around Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray, Hernangomez has the skill set to thrive as a supporting role player. With above-average 3-point shooting, physical defense and a continued presence on the boards, there is certainly a path to playing time for Hernangomez as he enters his fourth season in the league. Given his 2019 FIBA World Cup play so far, there is no indication that Hernangomez is backing down from the anticipated competition in the Nuggets’ forward rotation.

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