Feb. 07, 2017
Why Willy Hernangomez needs to play every game
Aside from drafting Kristaps Porzingis the next best move Phil Jackson has made during his awful tenure as Knicks' president might be acquiring Willy Hernangomez. Jackson made the under the radar move of trading for Willy's rights during the 2015 draft. The 22 year old Spaniard stayed in the Spanish league for a season before signing with the Knicks and coming to the NBA for the 2016-17 season. In his first 43 NBA games Willy has proven himself to be a total steal for the Knicks and their future center.
He's averaging 6.1 PPG and 5.6 rebounds in his rookie campaign, but he's getting better every single day averaging a double double (10 and 10.3) over his last 10 games. At the beginning of the season his playing time was inconsistent which is expected for a rookie second round pick trying to earn more minutes. With Joakim Noah and Kyle O'Quinn ahead of him on the depth chart it was hard for him to play every game, but he was still showcasing his skill set when he got into games. Right from the start he has shown he is a terrific rebounder with a great feel for the game. Willy plays like an old school big man which is rare in today's NBA with all the perimeter shooting going on. He has an excellent array of post moves and can score with either hand.
Despite his excellent play as a rookie Hernangomez still isn't playing as much as he should. There are still games where he barely sees any minutes even after a playing very solid for a stretch of games. When you look at his number's per 36 minutes it's mind boggling how Willy doesn't see at least 20 minutes a night.
Per 36: 15.2 PPG/ 14.0 RPG/ 4.6 ORPG
His most recent game might have been his best as he catapulted a Knick comeback win over the Nets with 16 points and 16 rebounds. Willy played big minutes down the stretch cleaning up the boards and scoring in the post while Joakim Noah sat on the bench. This is something Knicks fans would love to see more of as the young rookie continues to outplay the Knicks' $72 million center. It's easy to say that Willy should start over Noah from here on out, but that's easier said than done for coach Jeff Hornacek. Noah is the better defensive player, but there's no doubt Willy brings much more on the offensive end and overall with his energy. Eventually I see Willy taking over the starting center job, but it might be too much to ask for giving him the job in his rookie season. As long as he is getting consistent minutes every game than that's all that should matter.
The dilemma the Knicks face is that if Noah continues to start than it's going to affect the playing time for their backup bigs. Earlier in the season Kyle O'Quinn was playing some of the best basketball of his career and continues to have a big impact when he's the first big man off the bench. Take a look at his numbers per 36 min.
Per 36: 14.5 PPG/ 13.6 RPG/ 5.0 ORPG
The problem with starting Noah is that Coach Hornacek can't find big minutes for all three of his big men. With Noah starting that usually leaves Willy or O'Quinn as the odd man out which neither player deserves. With KP logging the majority of the minutes at the 4 there is no way the other three big men can each log close to 20 minutes a game.
Really the only way to resolve this is to bench Noah but I don't see it happening given his contract. I know that sucks, but that's just the way things go in professional sports. He has the bigger name and the money so the Knicks feel obligated to start him when they obviously shoudn't. It's not fair for Willy and O'Quinn, but I don't see anything changing anytime soon.
Regardless of who the starting center is going forward there is no question that Hernangomez needs to play more minutes and play every game. Right now he's playing better than any big on the roster and needs to be rewarded for that. At 22 years old the future is extremely bright for Hernangomez. As for the present Willy has earned the right to be the Knicks' primary center whether it's starting or not.