NEW YORK — One day after Carmelo Anthony drew comparisons between rookie big man Willy Hernangomez and perennial NBA All-Star Marc Gasol, New York Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek doubled down with similar sentiments on his feel for the game.
“He’s been playing with the Gasol brothers for a few years now and has picked up a lot. You can see a lot of similarities in what they can do and what he does now,” Hornacek told a small group of reporters after Sunday’s open practice at Madison Square Garden. “To get to this level, you’ve got to do something that’s a little different. And when you see a guy be two steps ahead of the play, those are the guys that stick out to me when I’m looking at young players.
“And that’s what Willy does. He’s almost looking two steps ahead. He’s not getting the ball and then saying, ‘OK, now what’s next?’ He already knows what’s next. He knows what’s next before that. So, that’s why I think you look at Marc and Pau (Gasol) and they’re both that way, too.”
The Knicks acquired Hernangomez on draft day from Philadelphia, who selected him 35th overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. The 22-year-old Spanish big man shared a few players he tried to model his game after growing up in Madrid.
“I always say for me, Felipe Reyes. He’s a center from Spain,” Hernangomez said. “And if I had to choose some other player from the NBA, when I was younger I would say Shaquille O’Neal. He’s one of my favorite players. And right now, the Gasol brothers. I try to learn about them.”
Hernangomez hosted his coming out party in Saturday’s 119-107 preseason loss to the Boston Celtics. He posted the first double-double of his young NBA career, notching 12 points and 12 rebounds in 24 minutes.
Hornacek said they’re going to have to find minutes for the rookie big man and that he’s already exceeded his expectations.
“Young kid coming over to this county, my expectations were ‘he’s gonna kinda be a little tentative, kinda work his way into it and try to figure things out,’” Hornacek said. “[It] wasn’t like that from day one. He jumped right in there. It didn’t matter.”
During Knicks open practice, Hernangomez hit a Gasol-like baseline, shimmy-turnaround jumper. He knows he isn’t either of the Spanish big men, but he’s going to work towards it.
“Marc Gasol is just one player. Nobody’s like Marc, Marc is unbelievable,” Hernangomez said. “I try to watch him and copy his move and some things like that. But I’m very happy for Melo to say that. I’m very proud. And I just want to keep working. I know I have to prove a lot of things and I will do that.”
Kristian Winfield covers the New York Knicks for Elite Sports NY. You can start the conversation on Twitter @Krisplashed.