The Minnesota Timberwolves sent out five players and acquired four back in their multi-team trade on Tuesday night. Let’s talk about the fit of Juan Hernangomez on the Wolves’ roster.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were long-rumored to be shopping Robert Covington among several contenders, but a four-team trade came together quickly and somewhat unexpectedly late Tuesday night that involved a total of 12 players.
While Beasley is the headliner of the four players who will be donning a Timberwolves uniform for the remainder of this season and possibly into the future, Hernangomez is also a notable get for Gersson Rosas and the Wolves front office.
The Wolves have started Covington at power forward all season, with a combination of Noah Vonleh and Keita Bates-Diop mostly sharing the backup minutes at the 4. All three of those players are now gone, and short of playing Andrew Wiggins extended minutes at the spot — which they’ll probably do for some stretches — the Wolves needed to bring back someone who could hold down the forward slot next to Karl-Anthony Towns.
Hernangomez is an intriguing fit, given his solid all-around game and theoretically effective 3-point shooting ability.
Last season, the man who goes by Juancho shot appeared in 70 games and started 25 for a 54-win Denver Nuggets team that finished in the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference. The counting stats (5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds) aren’t sexy, but 57.6 percent of his shot attempts came from beyond the arc, and he shot an acceptable 36.5 percent on his long-range tries.
He’s just an okay rebounder but is an underrated defender and stands 6-foot-9 with a solid, 7-foot wingspan. Still only 24 years old, there is still some upside remaining.
The Wolves have tried, to varying extents, several different types of power forwards alongside Towns. First, there was more a playmaker at the 4 next to Towns in Nemanja Bjelica, who was likely a good fit but didn’t receive ample run with the first unit and is now an effective player in Sacramento.
Then there was Taj Gibson, who was a lower-usage, defensive-minded yet somewhat undersized power forward who was a solid rebounder. The latter part of last year saw Dario Saric take over the starting role, but he was an average-y 3-point shooter who was equally as comfortable with his back to the basket and less aggressive than he should have been with the ball in his hands on the perimeter.
To date, the Gibson fit begat the most success for the Wolves, which is one of the reasons acquiring Noah Vonleh appeared to make some sense early in the season; Towns needs the help both defensively and on the glass.
But the Wolves primarily rolled with Covington at the 4, and it hurt the Wolves in the rebounding category. Now, the acquisition of Hernangomez gives Minnesota more overall size on the frontline without sacrificing much perimeter shooting and probably marginally improving their rebounding.
However, Hernangomez isn’t the defender that Covington is and while he can guard bigger players, probably isn’t a long-term solution as a starter next to Towns. (The Wolves also acquired the intriguing Jarred Vanderbilt, who does profile as more of a defensive-minded, run-the-floor big without an outside shot. More on him later this week.)
Think of this as the Wolves’ shot at a lower-usage big to pair with Towns who shouldn’t kill them on defense, shores up their rebounding just a bit, and can hit open 3-pointers when the ball is swung his way.
Hernangomez likely won’t earn a big deal in restricted free agency this summer, but there’s a shot that he plays well enough to be retained on a similar, somewhat team-friendly deal to what Jake Layman signed: three years and under $11.3 million. Again, there’s some upside remaining, and in the right role, a player like Hernangomez can certainly pull his weight on a playoff team.
It remains to be seen if he’s overextended in a starting role next to Towns, but he’ll likely have every opportunity to earn the chance to stick around Target Center in the future. If he does that, than this trade has a legitimate chance to be a win for the Wolves.
If nothing else, Juancho is an intriguing piece that helps Minnesota earn back some of the shooting that left town when Robert Covington was sent to Houston.
Of course, it will be interesting to see just how much of a chance Hernangomez gets to prove his worth, and ultimately how this acquisition turns out over the final two months of the season. Stay tuned.