The New Orleans Pelicans value Willy Hernangomez more than Adam Sandler’s new Netflix movie Hustle. He has made himself practically untouchable on the NBA trade market but his teammate jokingly cut him from the roster after watching Bo Cruz try out. Cruz is played by Willy’s brother Juancho Hernangomez. Willy appears as himself.
“We refused to trade him because of what he gives the group (from a chemistry and locker-room standpoint)” Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin said after being eliminated from the NBA Playoffs. Other teams were calling because Hernangomez produced when he was given minutes.
Willy played 50 games last season, starting eight. The Spanish international averaged 9.1 points and 6.8 rebounds while making more shots (52%) than he missed. He poured in 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a road loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on January 25. Hernangomez had 17 points and 10 rebounds in only 14 minutes against the Atlanta Hawks on March 20.
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Hernangomez is owed $2.44 million and $2.55 million over the next two seasons and believes he just had his best year in his professional career. While just getting a seconds-long cameo role in Hustle, Hernangomez was a vital rotational piece the last three weeks of the season, helping the Pelicans secure the last NBA Play-In tournament spot. He knows he will have to fight for minutes going forward but loves the city and wants another chance to experience playoff basketball.
The production is invaluable at the price point. Hernangomez was 8th overall in rebounds per minute behind Andre Drummond, Rudy Gobert, Clint Capela, Hassan Whiteside, JaVale McGee, Omar Yurtseven, and Nikola Jokic. Only Stephen Adams grabbed more offensive rebounds per minute last season. Hernangomez buys those precious extra possessions that win games.
The backup big man explained during his exit interview, “My season personally I think was my best career season so far. I think I proved that I can play in this league. Obviously, I would’ve loved to play more minutes. I think I deserve to be playing every game. But at the end of the day, I’m a team guy. Whatever the team needs to win, I will take it…It was an incredible year. From the beginning, so hard, so tough. It was something amazing to be in the playoffs. New Orleans, the city was unbelievable. My first playoffs. It was a season I’m going to remember for my (lifetime).”
Several Pelicans have been in the team’s training facility getting in offseason work. The 5 on 5 runs might not get as wild as the pickup games on the Hustle set but Hernangomez relishes the time with his teammates. He is even hosting a camp that Zion Williamson might attend.
“For me, my team is my family, my arena or practice facility is my house, and I just love my teammates. I’m so happy to have great teammates because sometimes you hear people have bad teammates or whatever. No. Here, everybody’s great. Humble. Working hard. And We have superstars. We’ve got Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, and Jonas Valanciunas, which are superstars, but they are humble, two-way guys. That’s the beauty of this team. I think the sky’s the limit for us, and I think we’re going in the right direction.”