In a season that may have been revelatory for all the wrong reasons, Willy Hernangomez was an undoubtedly positive revelation for the Knicks, perhaps even the most purely positive development of 2016-17.
As the season wore on, the rookie looked like one of the league’s best young centers. He showed an advanced post game, and a willingness (but not necessarily the ability...that’ll come later) to shoot from distance. He also proved to be a capable rebounder and a good defender.
The same year the Knicks thought they found their center of the foreseeable future in Joakim Noah, they may have found their center of the present, foreseeable and distant future in the 6’11, 23-year old from Spain, instead.
Building through the draft works!
Season & Future
Regardless of how his career ends up panning out, he’s already an objectively better basketball player than Jahlil Okafor and for that, we can be happy.
Glad the Sixers are keep Okafor a while longer so I can keep laughing that Hinkie drafted and traded away a superior C in that same draft— Joseph Flynn (@ChinaJoeFlynn) February 23, 2017
This tweet was sent out in late February, right around the time we saw an uptick in Willy’s Minutes. The truth is that his increased playing time came as a direct result of Joakim Noah’s injury and eventual suspension for PED use.
Prior to Noah being shut down for the year, Willy was probably New York’s third-string center behind Kyle O’Quinn as well. But he flashed his polished post game and his improving defense in a couple of strong performances in December and January—notably a 17 point, 9 rebound game in a loss against Denver on December 17th, a 17 point, 11 rebound game in the win against Boston on January 18th, and a bonkers month of February that saw him average 10 points and 9 rebounds—were enough for Jeff Hornacek to make the very obvious decision of keeping him in the starting lineup.
It was a great (read: blindingly obvious) decision.
When all was said and done, the Knicks wound up with a player who averaged 8 points and 7 rebounds in just 72 games played and 18.4 MPG. For a second-round rookie sent over from Philadelphia in exchange for some cash and a couple second-round picks, that’s pretty darn good.
During the year, Willy grabbed 13.8% of available offensive rebounds, 27.1% of available defensive boards (!!!!) and a solid 20.1% of all available rebounds. He had a player efficiency rating of 18.9, and a usage rate of about 20, which isn’t bad either.
Willy’s rookie campaign wasn’t simply good—in the context of this wacky Knickerbocker franchise, it was downright historic. That 18.9 player efficiency rating was the highest among qualified first-year Knicks in the team’s 70 years of existence. He also finished 4th in franchise history among rookies in win shares per 48 minutes. The big Spaniard didn’t exactly explode onto the scene in his MSG debut, but his efficient production was damn near unprecedented.
I just noticed that I'm 386 words in, and still haven’t mentioned the name Kristaps Porzingis. Well, Kristaps Porzingis, Kristaps Porzingis, Kristaps Porzingis.
After seeing Willy and KP play together, on the basketball court, at the same time, we saw much more than just chemistry. We saw a pair of 7-footers in their early 20’s who were really good at basketball and who played for the Knicks. We didn’t believe our eyes. We spat out our drinks. We called our television service providers because the shit had to have been busted.
KP is amazing because he can do non-7’3 things as well as 7’3 things better than any human being should be able to. Willy isn’t KP, but towards the end of the season, he began trying to do the thing that all modern NBA centers will be asked to do and that’s shoot the 3. He only tried 15 of them and only made 4 but hey! It’s something to work with.
If he can improve that shooting touch, and maybe beef up to be able to withstand the wear and tear of being an NBA centre, that’ll give the Knicks 2 very talented bigs who can play inside and out and who are barely old enough to order a drink at the bar. This smells like Knicks false hope but dammit it feels so real!
His best game of the season was the March 14th win against the Pacers at the Garden.
His 13 points were far from his season’s best, but his 16 rebounds tied his season-high. He also added 4 assists and 3 steals to his line. It may not have been his best performance, but I remembered it being the first time it looked like the game slowed down for him and he looked really comfortable as a starter.
Honorable Mention: 02/12/17 vs. San Antonio
Not his best game, but major props for coming up big down the stretch against one of the league’s premier clubs, finishing that late-game dipsy-doo layup and drawing effusive praise from our collective basketball grandpa, Hubie Brown.
If the Knicks have a guy who can consistently turn in these type of performances for the next 10 season, I’m sure they’ll...trade him for a 40-year old Zach Randolph.
Or maybe combine him with KP to have a killer all-Euro frontcourt for years to come but we all have our doubts.
This is usually where I speculate on the player in question’s future in New York. I’m perhaps a bit too excited about this subject, so I’ll draw my conclusions in equation form...
Willy=good. Trade Willy=bad. Willy learn three pointers=very good. Willy+KP=omfg yes.