What EuroBasket Taught Us About Juancho Hernangomez

Real life is, sometimes, better than fiction.

Yesterday, Juancho Hernangomez channeled his inner Bo Cruz after being subbed on at the end of the first quarter. Spain led 20-9 and Hernangomez hit an incredible six consecutive 3s in the second quarter of a EuroBasket final — a defining moment for his career, but this was far from a Cindrella story with an underdog protagonist.

Former Raptors assistant coach Sergio Scariolo subbed Hernangomez out at end of the second quarter as Spain led 47-30. France continued to chip away in the second half and got within three points midway through the third quarter.

Hernangomez led all scorers with 27 points in the biggest basketball game, on the biggest stage, of the summer. He shot 7-for-9 beyond the arc when the stakes were highest, but we must be aware of recency bias.

The Raptors will need three-point shooting this season and a deeper dive into Hernangomez’s trey balls across the last five EuroBasket games (four elimination-round games plus the group-stage Turkey game) provides a more sobering look at reality.

Against France, Hernangomez shot 6-for-8 (75%) on contested catch-and-shoot 3s. Across the most recent five games, 28 out of his 29 threes have been catch-and-shoot. The lone one-dribble pull-up 3 happened yesterday:

Ironically, Hernangomez’s catch-and-shoots have been better when contested. He shot a measly 1-for-8 on open catch-and-shoot triples, and to get even more granular, he struggled with the easiest one of all: open catch-and-shoot corner 3s. As a Raptor, he’ll need to be automatic from there, especially if he wants to be catching passes from Fred, Scottie or Pascal. According to Stat Muse, he’s strong from the left corner, shooting 42.9% (36-of-84) in his NBA career. That’s higher than the 38.9% league average.

Gotta hit these freebies, Bo.

Canada’s AmeriCup head coach Nathaniel Mitchell has referred to the Five Levels of Shooting, where the degree of difficulty increases per level. Level 1 is standstill catch-and-shoot shots; Level 2, basic movement (e.g. sliding to the corner to catch-and-shoot); Level 3, basic off-the-bounce (e.g. transition 3s); Level 4, elite movement (e.g. shooting after flying off different actions); and Level 5, elite off-the-bounce shots (e.g. breaking a defender down in the dying seconds and getting a good shot off).

He refers to the Five Levels of Shooting @ 34:12

According to Mitchell’s framework, Hernangomez meets Level 1 and 2 with ease, but hasn’t shown too much Level 3 shooting through five games. The following three shots are borderline-Level 4, but based on an extremely limited sample size. The first two are nearly identical — Hernangomez cuts from the weakside wing, curls off a screen and buries a contested baseline-corner 3. In the third shot, he dribbles baseline (his handles aren’t bad), pitches the ball and lifts back up to the wing and buries the contested catch-and-shoot 3 (this requires solid footwork). 

From a technical standpoint, he can consistently and reliably hit Level 2, maybe Level 3, shots. If we exclude yesterday’s game, he’s only hit 4-for-13 of his contested three-points shots through four games — nothing to write home about. He shot 7-for-8 from above-the-break 3s against France, but was only 4-for-17 in the preceding four games. His finals three-point shooting clinic hides a lack of consistently, but he still amassed an impressive 11-for-25 (44%) above-the-break 3s through the last five games. According to the same Stat Muse chart above, he’s shot 37.8% (34-of-90) from the top of the 3, which is above the league average of 34.8%.

If last night is any indication, he shines brightest when the pressure’s on — and that’s an intangible asset every end-of-the-bench guy needs.

Hernangomez has a shooter’s mentality

Hernangomez averaged 5.4 threes per game in 23.4 minutes played. That’s a 3 attempted every 4 minutes and 20 seconds. He won’t be expected to do that for the Raptors, but he could carve out a role shooting the 3 at a low to medium-volume, average to above-average rate. Compared to Spain’s veteran leader, Rudy Fernandez, who shot 53% (10-for-19) from downtown throughout all four elimination-round EuroBasket games, Hernangomez still attempted more threes per game than him (4.75). That’s a good sign that Hernangomez is comfortable with the green light.

Here, he gets blocked trying to finish against the Finnish. Spain gets a steal on the defensive end and impressively, he has no hesitation pulling the trigger on the next possession, even though the ball doesn’t go through the hoop.

Actualizing Vision 6’9’’ offensively will depend on three-point shooting. Threes will stretch the defence and make lane penetration easier — even better if players are a threat from above-the-break 3s, which would open up even more space. Defensively, Hernangomez has always switched on pick and rolls well, so he should be able to guard multiple positions with his height and strength.

Real Life Bo Cruz?

Training camp is just around the corner (it’s next week!). Hernangomez will be competing with D.J. Wilson, Josh Jackson and Gabe Brown for the final roster spot, but he will definitely be a frontrunner. Gabe Brown will likely not make the team as an Exhibit 10 player, and questions surrounding Josh Jackson’s shooting remain a mystery. Hernangomez not only signed a $2.3 million guaranteed contract in the off-season, but also helped maintain, and comes from, Spain’s winning culture, establishing European basketball supremacy alongside the former Raptors assistant coach.

As the old adage goes, iron sharpens iron. Rico Hines’ runs oozed with so much testosterone, viewers could feel it through their screens. I’m sure all those players in LA got better, but nothing beats playing with and against the best Europeans, who love competing in EuroBasket.

Hernangomez will undoubtedly show up to training camp a different person. He’s thrived in big moments both on and off the court – it’s probably been the biggest summer for him professionally.

Toronto has always embraced junkyard dogs from the original Jerome Williams to more recent players like Yuta Watanabe. If he can consistently hit the 3, play defence and hustle for rebounds like the ones below, Juancho may just become the scrappy underdog that we all loved in Bo Cruz.

Hernangomez grabs a huge offensive rebound over France’s Rudy Gobert, leading to another three from him.

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