Austin Green is an American journalist living in Sevilla, Spain. He covers the ACB and NBA prospects in Spain at his website LosCrossovers.com. This year, he'll be helping Posting and Toasting check in on Knicks draft pick Willy Hernangomez, starting ... now. - Seth
Kristaps Porzingis is skipping EuroBasket 2015, but fans can still check out young Willy Hernangómez as he makes his senior national team debut for Spain.
Willy was essentially guaranteed a roster spot in July when Marc Gasol opted out of the tournament and he will back up Pau Gasol at center.
This is a huge opportunity for Willy, who at 21-years-old is the youngest player on Spain's roster. He could play a significant role for the gold-medal contender while competing against NBA centers like Rudy Gobert (France), Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania) and Marcin Gortat (Poland).
Here's everything you need to know before checking out the 35th pick in the 2015 Draft.
EuroBasket is the third-most important FIBA event, behind the Olympics and the Basketball World Cup. It's held every two years and is a high-stakes Olympic qualifier — 1st and 2nd-place teams earn a spot in the 2016 Rio Olympics, while 3rd-7th go to another Olympic qualifying tournament next summer.
EuroBasket features 24 teams divided into four groups. Group stages will be held in Germany, Croatia, Latvia and France, and France will also host the knockout rounds.
Led by reigning MVP Tony Parker, France is the favorite this year. They beat Lithuania to win gold in 2013, ending Spain's run of dominance, which included gold medals in 2009 and 2011.
France's roster is loaded with NBA talent: Parker, Gobert, Boris Diaw, Nic Batum, Evan Fournier and Joffrey Lauvergne.
Other notable NBA players participating include Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), Nikola Mirotic (Spain), Mario Hezonja (Croatia), and former Knicks Danilo Gallinari and Andrea Bargnani (Italy).
What to Expect From Willy
Pau will get most of the minutes at center, and Euroleague legend Felipe Reyes — typically a 4 — will play some 5 as well. But Willy has proven he can compete on a high level and he should play about 8-12 minutes per game, depending on the situation (FIBA games are 40 minutes long).
Offensively, he's very advanced for his age. He has great footwork in the post, he finishes with both hands, he runs the floor, he has a smooth mid-range J (3-point range in warmups) and he draws a lot of fouls.
Perhaps most importantly for Spain, he makes quick decisions with the ball and he's a good passer, particularly off pick-and-rolls. My favorite Hernangómez play from Spain's summer friendlies was the gorgeous pass you see at 0:35 in the video below. Not many 6'11" big men can throw perfect lefty wraparound passes out to the three-point line while diving to the rim.
This is Willy's senior team debut, so some early jitters are to be expected. However, it's not like he's venturing into completely unknown territory. Back in December, he became the youngest player ever to drop 29 points and 13 rebounds in an ACB game, and he did that against Barcelona centers Ante Tomic (Croatia) and Tibor Pleiss (Germany, Utah Jazz).
He should be able to get buckets against any EuroBasket center, with the possible exception of Gobert, who is not a human.
Where Hernangómez will struggle is on defense.
He's relatively ground-bound and he lacks lateral quickness, so more athletic players are able to go over and around him. Smart teams will attack him often and exploit his sub-par pick-and-roll defense. It would be nice if Spain had Serge Ibaka to clean up some of Willy's mistakes, but they chose Mirotic as their one naturalized player, leaving almost no shot-blocking on the roster.
Willy is a smart kid — eventually he'll learn to compensate for his lack of athleticism with good timing and positioning. It would have been great for him to go through training camp with Marc Gasol to expedite that process, but that experience will have to wait.
For now, expect him to get toasted a few times each game.
Spain is in Group B, by far the toughest of the four groups. Serbia, Turkey, Italy and Germany are all dangerous (sorry, Iceland). But Spain is still the favorite, and with their three toughest opponents coming first, they could potentially rest Pau in final two games, giving even more minutes to Willy.
The knockout stage begins Saturday, Sept. 12.
How to Watch
You can stream every game live online by purchasing a subscription to LiveBasketball.TV. If you don't want to do that, I suggest checking out your favorite illegal streaming service.
We will also have post-game updates of every Spain game, including highlights and stats from across the pond.