Minnesota Timberwolves: Grading Juancho Hernangomez’s 2019-20 season

Juan Hernangomez has reportedly re-signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
Juan Hernangomez has reportedly re-signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images) /

The Minnesota Timberwolves continued their search for the perfect frontcourt running mate for Karl-Anthony Towns when they acquired Juancho Hernangomez at the trade deadline.

In Karl-Anthony Towns‘ four-plus seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he’s been paired with power forwards of varying sizes and abilities.

Over his first couple of seasons, there was a lot of Gorgui Dieng and Nemanja Bjelica with some Kevin Garnett sprinkled in during his rookie campaign. Then, it was mostly Taj Gibson for the next couple of years. The start of this season saw Robert Covington start at the 4.

Prior to the trade deadline, Covington was shipped to Houston in a four-team deal that also brought his replacement into the fold. Juan Hernangomez was acquired along with Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt and immediately slotted into the starting power forward spot.

Hernangomez was a key part of the Denver Nuggets’ rotation for last year’s 54-win squad that earned a No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. He came off the bench and attempted 57.6 percent of his shots from beyond the arc, hitting on 36.5 of them during the 2018-19 campaign.

The Wolves acquired him betting that a lower-usage stretch-4 with moderate defensive and rebounding capabilities would fit nicely next to Towns. Covington was similar in that he didn’t need the ball in his hands much and attempted most of his shots from beyond the arc but didn’t have quite as much size as Hernangomez and was much more comfortable guarding perimeter players.

Here’s what yours truly said at the time of the trade regarding the change to the starting lineup.

"…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……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."

At the time, it was fair to think that Hernangomez wouldn’t earn too much in restricted free agency. However, his 14 games in a Timberwolves uniform might be enough of a glimpse at his talent to price him out of a reasonable range for Gersson Rosas and Co.

As Wolf, Hernangomez has started 14 games, averaging 12.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game with shooting splits of .453/.420/.609 (field goal, 3-point, and free throw percentages). This is up significantly from his career line of .428/.359/.722, albeit in a sample size that is extremely small.

However, there could absolutely be something to the idea that Hernangomez simply needed the opportunity to spread his wings and play without looking over his shoulder. In some ways, it’s similar to what Dario Saric was unable to do next year in his chance at winning the starting power forward job.

2019-20 Season Grade: A

In terms of what Hernangomez could control and what his fit was with the Wolves, everything went according to plan.

Of course, he’s only suited up next to Towns twice in those 14 games (averaging 14 points but only 3 rebounds while shooting 5-for-7 from beyond the arc, for what it’s worth), and that makes things a bit more difficult to evaluate.

Rosas will have to decide if the 14 games in which he’s seen Hernangomez up close are enough to determine his long-term fit alongside Towns. Restricted free agency is always somewhat of a guessing game, and if things look to be getting out of control, don’t be surprised if the Wolves walk away.

That said, if the price stays reasonable, it certainly appears as though this model of power forwards alongside Towns might be just what the doctor ordered for the Timberwolves.

Grading James Johnson's 2019-20 season. dark. Next

Speaking of restricted free agency, let’s talk about Malik Beasley…