In February, the Utah Jazz traded Joe Ingles and Elijah Hughes to the Portland Trail Blazers for Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Juancho Hernangomez. This was widely viewed as a financial deal rather than a basketball one, but some thought Utah won the deal by getting Alexander-Walker, a young and talented scorer.
A couple of months later, we see a different story play out. Quin Snyder, who has been desperate for more defense from his rotation players, has inserted Juancho Hernangomez into the rotation. At first, he was only getting minutes due to injuries. However, in the last few games, he has become the de facto backup power forward rather than Rudy Gay. Hernangomez has shown what he can bring to the team with this opportunity.
Juancho Hernangomez is 6’9” with a 7’0” wingspan. To the more traditional NBA fan, he'd be seen as a player with a true power forward body. Utah doesn't have a lot of size outside of the center position, so it's easy to notice when Hernangomez is out there.
Despite being new to Snyder's infamously difficult system, Hernangomez has quickly adapted and found ways to impact the game. On defense, he's been active and disruptive, averaging 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals per 36 minutes.
Among rotation players on the team, Hernangomez ranks fifth in defensive box plus/minus, fifth in steal percentage, and third in block percentage.
Hernangomez has found his fit in Utah's bench lineup. Quin Snyder likes to stagger Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert with both the starters and the bench, which has resulted in a dominant bench lineup of Conley, Clarkson, two forwards, and Gobert. In the past, Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder, Georges Niang, Jeff Green, and Rudy Gay have all had times in those forward positions, but Snyder seems to have decided on Danuel House and Juancho Hernangomez. They've been dominant in the limited time of this new version of the lineup.
The Conley/Clarkson/House/Hernangomez/Gobert lineup is +38.1 per 100 possessions, just so everyone knows.— Calvin Chappell (@CHALVIN2018) April 5, 2022
Scoring 147.2 per 100 on offense, and allowing 109.1 per 100 on defense.
Only 53 possessions so far, but wow. https://t.co/eYd3ywAAaP
Having two active defensive forwards next to Gobert makes for a formidable defense. One has to believe that his effort on defense has been the main reason Hernangomez has claimed a rotation spot.
Hernangomez isn't known as an incredible offensive player, but his contributions on that end of the court have already proven valuable. He's averaging 11.4 points per 36 minutes while shooting incredibly well. His 42.5% from three is a career-high, as is his 63.4% true shooting. He doesn't need a lot of shots, but when he's gotten them, he's made the most of his opportunities. This is a tiny sample size, so while we'd love for him to be a consistently elite shooter, that's probably not likely. Regardless, he's been good enough as a shooter throughout his career to expect at least average shooting on open three-pointers. That alone allows him to be valuable as a big in Utah's system.
Donovan Mitchell on Juancho Hernangomez.— Ben Anderson (@BensHoops) April 1, 2022
"For a guy that just got here, not really knowing our offense, he's starting to figure things out and he's a hooper. He's been a big plus for us."pic.twitter.com/DzVkzvwT0p
Outside of his shooting, Juancho has been valuable with his movement in Utah's offense. He cuts off-ball frequently, opening himself and his teammates up for easy shots.
Look at this cut from Juancho Hernangomez last night. He knows LAC is in zone, knows Morris has to help in on the Conley PNR to prevent the Gobert lob.— Ben Dowsett (@Ben_Dowsett) March 19, 2022
So Juancho cuts hard, perfect timing - Batum's instinct has him help, leaves O'Neale WIDE open: pic.twitter.com/2Aex70REWz
The Utah Jazz offense implements cutting, mostly at predictable and calculated times. There isn't a lot of creativity off-ball from Jazz players who are used to running such a rigid system. Having new players like Hernangomez improvising cuts adds a new element to the offense.
Juancho Hernangomez rocking the rim pic.twitter.com/kohD2HfaTV— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) March 30, 2022
With the struggles of Rudy Gay, Juancho's play has been a revelation for Utah. The team desperately needs players who can contribute on defense without hurting the offense, and Hernangomez has fit seamlessly on both ends of the court.
While he wasn't lauded as a significant acquisition for the Jazz at the time, that perception may need to change. He's a 26-year-old player with size, shooting ability, defense, and feel for the game. He's under contract for one more year after this one at only six million per year. He's already a valuable rotation player for a playoff team. If he can continue to improve, he might prove to be the best part of that trade.