Willy Hernangomez finds himself out of the New York Knicks’ rotation and a big reason for that is the play of Michael Beasley.
Willy Hernangomez is experiencing an unexpected and discouraging sophomore season, seeing little to no playing time with the 2017-18 New York Knicks. A major reason for that is his inability to consistently defend the paint and the outstanding play of forward Michael Beasley sealed the center’s fate, for the time being.
Hernangomez went into September part of a young Knicks’ core that was viewed as a source of optimism for the future. With Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., rookie Frank Ntilikina, and Hernangomez, the Knicks had the making of an intriguing, young team.
Then, in mid-September, management finally pulled the trigger on a deal to ship Carmelo Anthony out of town. Trading Anthony to the Oklahoma City Thunder, New York acquired forward Doug McDermott and center Enes Kanter in return. The acquisition of Kanter, in particular, had a direct effect on Hernangomez.
Being inserted into the rotation as the team’s starting center from the get-go, Kanter put Hernangomez out of a starting role — a position many thought he’d man this season before the Knicks made the Anthony deal. With big man Kyle O’Quinn providing Jeff Hornacek with two-way play (finishing in the paint, defending the low-post), the second-year center found himself out of the team’s rotation.
Already the third and arguably fourth center in the rotation with Joakim Noah present, Hernangomez finds himself in an early hole. Couple that situation with the Knicks’ crowded frontline and the center has been unable to progress his game. In 15 games, Hernangomez is averaging 5.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game in just 10.6 minutes a night.
At 23-years-old, he has the chance to work himself back into the rotation if he can improve his defensive play, but even in the minutes he has been granted, Hernangomez hasn’t been able to take advantage. He’s still playing suspect defense and not showing any signs of improvement on offense, outside of a respectable low-post game.
On the other hand, Beasley started off the month in a completely different situation. Projected to be playing behind Courtney Lee, Lance Thomas, and McDermott, it seemed inevitable that the former number two overall pick would struggle to get minutes. Now he finds himself in what would’ve been an unimaginable situation back in training camp.
Playing in place of Porzingis, when the injury bug has hit him, and/or being called on to provide a spark off the bench, Beasley has made the most of the minutes Hornacek has given him; he continues to provide the head coach with no reason to be taken out of the rotation.
Beasley’s ability to put the ball in the cup is well-known. He can play in isolation, finish in the paint and create his own shot; the self-proclaimed “walking bucket” has certainly backed up his ability to be such a presence. This season, the forward is averaging 10.2 points per game in just 17.1 minutes a night. What’s even more impressive is his play in the month of December.
In the team’s last four games, Beasley is averaging 20.3 points and leading the way for a team playing without its offensive focal point (Porzingis) in the last two games. At the same time, he’s averaging 15.4 points per game in the nine games the Knicks have played in December. Putting up 30-point games versus the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets over the past month, Beasley has answered the call offensively and filled the void created by Porzingis’ absence. And even with the seven-footer out, Hernangomez still struggles to crack a lick of playing time.
Hernangomez has made just two appearances this December and they both came in blowout loses to the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets.
Yes, Beasley is a small forward/power forward and Hernangomez is a center. Simultaneously, Hornacek has shuffled a bunch of different units on the floor, some big man heavy and some small-ball lineups such as playing multiple forwards at once; Beasley has made the most of being involved in those lineups.
The Knicks have also never been afraid to go big in the past, despite the small-ball NBA trend. In the 2014-15 season, the Knicks went with Amare Stoudemire (6-foot-10) and Samuel Dalembert (6-foot-11) in the middle. The ensuing year, they went with Porzingis (7-foot-3) and Robin Lopez (7 feet). Last season, they went with Porzingis and Noah (6-foot-11) and, at times, Hernangomez (6-foot-11).
This year, Hornacek has rolled with Porzingis, when healthy, and Kanter (6-foot-11). History has shown that the Knicks aren’t afraid to start two centers or go big, but Hornacek is reluctant towards doing so at the moment with Porzingis out.
Beasley took on the role of being the team’s go-to scoring option with Porzingis and shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. out with injury. He’s also been competitive on defense, despite it typically not being a strong suit of his. Holding his own in the post and diving after loose balls, the forward has showcased a willingness to compete and improve his play on that end of the floor.
Starting Beasley in place of Porzingis, when injury presents itself, was a scenario little to no one could envision entering this season. While his scoring ability was never in doubt, it appeared as if the forward would man a role at the end of the bench or, at the very least, a minimal one based on being classified as a journeyman forward.
Hernangomez has gone from being the Knicks’ center of the future to the end of the bench and Beasley’s rise to being a key part of the team’s success has restricted and will continue to keep the center in a marginalized role — as long as this team continues to win.