Riding the bench and playing garbage-time minutes isn’t helping Willy Hernangomez’s development. Playing regularly in the G-League would.
It doesn’t happen often that promising 23-year-olds fail to see any playing time after a rookie season full of accolades.
However, this is exactly the scene in Madison Square Garden right now.
Not only did Kanter take Willy’s spot in the starting five, but the former All-Rookie First Teamer fell completely out of the rotation.
Kanter sat out three games last week before returning on Wednesday night, propelling the team to a win against Miami.
This served as an opportunity for Hernangomez to prove to Knicks management that he deserved more minutes. However, in those three games, Hernangomez failed to make a compelling case for his return to the lineup.
During that span, he played 18.6 minutes per game and averaged five points, 6.7 rebounds and two assists while shooting 41.2 percent. His advanced statistics during that stretch, while certainly a small sample size, were also unimpressive.
Hernangomez sported a net rating of minus-26.9 since Nov. 24th, with a defensive rating of 111.8 and an offensive rating of 84.9.
To put this in perspective, Hernangomez owned the 18th worst net rating of all players who averaged more than 18 minutes per game over that span.
He returned to the bench with a dramatically reduced role against the Heat and failed to see any action against the Magic last Monday.
This move has angered those who want to see Hernangomez play and learn through this season, but circumstances have changed for the Knicks.
Expectations have changed significantly since the start of the season due to the team’s promising start.
The team came into this season with one goal in mind, evaluate and continue to develop their young talent. The main focus of this year’s New York Knicks squad, for now, is to simply play the hot player, regardless of their long-term importance to the team.
Due to this development, the Knicks have decided to make the development of Hernangomez secondary.
While the Knicks’ benching of Hernangomez is understandable, his DNP’s are only stunting his growth. The big man’s defense cannot be improved while he watches games from the bench.
Jeff Hornacek was asked yesterday if big man Willy Hernangomez would ever be sent to the G League to get playing time. He said the organization wasn’t considering it at the moment.
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) November 29, 2017
While Knicks management may disagree, this is undoubtedly the correct move for the Knicks and Hernangomez.
A young player like Willy needs to see minutes to get better, but it does not have to necessarily be in the NBA.
The Knicks can look at one of their own to see just how much a trip to the G-League helped.
Just last season, months before signing a $71 million dollar deal, Tim Hardaway Jr. took many trips the then named D-League.
The former Michigan Wolverine found himself in a very similar situation to the one Hernangomez finds himself in this year. A talented offensive player who fell out of his coach’s good graces because of his defensive effort and awareness.
While Hardaway Jr. is by no means going to be winning any defensive awards in the near future, he has certainly improved on that end of the floor since his trips to the Hawks’ G-League affiliate.
“I worked behind the scenes in the gym, in practices, making those guys better,” the former Hawk told Daniel Popper of The New York Daily News.
“And then after all those D-League stints, he gave me the opportunity to go out there and compete in a real NBA game with the guys and that’s when the trust started to build and that’s what helped me as a defensive player.”
The talent is there offensively for Hernangomez, as he demonstrated Monday night against the Indiana Pacers, putting in 14 points and grabbing ten rebounds.
He just needs to get better on the other side of the floor to see NBA minutes.
Hernangomez is never going to be a plus NBA defender. He simply moves too slow on defense to give help in time. But he can learn to become a smarter defender, as Hardaway Jr. did, with some meaningful minutes in Westchester.
The Knicks are 1-5 in their last six games. Perhaps the team finally will give in and start to realize this season should strictly be about developing their young core. Until then, the only way Hernangomez is going to improve and become a player head coach Jeff Hornacek feels comfortable giving minutes to is by joining Trey Burke and company on the Westchester Knicks in the NBA G-League.