There has not been a lot of time off for rookie forward Juan Hernangomez. The season came to an early end for him on April 12 when the Nuggets ended up failing to make the playoffs. He went to Spain after that, but has been in Denver the last three weeks working out and getting ready for summer league.
The Spaniard, who averaged 4.9 ppg and 3.0 rpg this year, caught up with HoopsHype to discuss his experience in the NBA so far and a bunch of other things.
Are there other Nuggets players working out in Denver with you?
Juan Hernangomez: Yeah, players are in and out here all the time. They come in for 2-3 days and leave for a week. Since their family homes are not far off, they hop on a plane and show up pretty quick. But yeah, there’s guys working out here.
Do you plan on playing summer league with Denver?
JH: Yeah, I think I’m going to play summer league. I like to compete. They asked me if I was down for it and I really would like to go and play a couple of games, be around the team and keep developing as a player.
What were you most concerned or scared about the NBA when you made it to the States last year?
JH: I’m not one person to be scared of things, to tell you the truth. My eyes and ears were wide open to what was going to come and was ready to learn. Every day is a new adventure over here. I was new to this, didn’t know much about basketball over here and how they work. Every day brought a new lesson learned.
What’s the best advice you’ve received in the NBA?
JH: Shoot every time you can (laughs). If you’re shooter, they are going to do all they can for you to have an open shot. So every time you’re free, you have to take that shot because there’s not going to be a second chance. I found that advice quite funny. Pretty much all teammates would tell me that.
When you make it to Denver and you get to practice with Nikola Jokic, is it obvious to you that he’s going to be the franchise player or did his sophomore season catch you by surprise?
JH: From Day 1, I was in shock with Nikola Jokic. Honestly, he’s the biggest talent I’ve seen in my life. When he improves physically and gets more ready for a full NBA season, he’s going to be so, so good. He’s our franchise player. He can give you 20 points and 20 rebounds, he will shoot threes, he can give you 12-15 assists. When the ball goes through him and he has a good day, our team has very good chances of winning. We really need him for next year.
You talked about him improving from a physical standpoint… He doesn’t look like the weight-lifting type. Am I right?
JH: Well, different guys work differently… He works in a different manner and it’s working out quite well for him considering he scores 40 points and gets 20 rebounds from time to time. Anyway, I think hitting the gym is a priority for him this summer and he’s going to get better there. We talk from time to time. I know he’s in Serbia.
When you were assigned to the D-League midway through the season, how did you take that?
JH: It was no big deal. My agent called me, we had previously discussed that possibility since for 2-3 weeks everybody was playing great and there were no minutes available… At the end of the day, you want to play and compete and prove you’re ready. The D-League is set up so young guys can develop. It was a good opportunity, I did well and one day later I was back to play vs. Oklahoma City. It was a brief, but good experience.
Do you like the three-point shooting role or is that not enough for you?
JH: Well, there’s a whole bunch of guys that make a living in the NBA just shooting the ball. I know I have this one skill, although I’m able to do many other things. Anyway, when you’re starting in the NBA you have to play D and help your team improve any way you can. When you’re just starting in the NBA, you can’t just come in and shoot 50 shots. You have the star players for that. That’s their role.
How’s been your relationship with Jordi Fernandez, the Nuggets’ Spanish assistant coach? Guess he’s been quite helpful.
JH: Of course, nobody has helped me more over here than Jordi. Starting from summer league till now, I owe him a lot. He helped me with my English, my car, my house, the X’s and O’s… When I needed him, he was there for me. If adjusting to Denver has not been that hard for me, that’s mainly because of him. I appreciate that very much and I’m always telling him that.
It feels like it’s a pretty good situation overall for you with the Nuggets, which is a pretty stable organization right now… especially compared to the Knicks, where your brother plays.
JH: Each team has good and bad things. The good thing about Denver is it’s a young team with a lot of faith in European talent. I have two great players at my position that I can look up to. We’ve come close to making the playoffs this season and we’re going to work hard to actually make it next year because this team deserves it. We’re going to put together a strong core in the next 3-4 years.
Are you following the playoffs?
JH: Yes, of course. Golden State and Cleveland are quite superior to the rest of the teams and it’s showing. It’s a shame for the Spurs that Kawhi Leonard got injured. They could have put up a fight with him. Boston is going to fight and fight, but I think they don’t have much of a shot vs. Cleveland. We’re in for a great Finals.
Don’t you think it’s bad news for the NBA that there’s two teams leaps and bounds ahead of the rest?
JH: I don’t think so. You’re going to have two super teams in the Finals. Plus, you had a very interesting Game 7 between Boston and Washington. I’ve enjoyed it overall. It’s just that when you have the Warriors and LeBron playing at that level… it’s very hard for the rest.
I saw you retweeted Shaq’s tweet on the Big Baller Brand of the Ball family. Coming from a basketball family yourself, what’s your take on the Balls and the things they are doing?
JH: (Laughs) I have a personal take on this that I’m not willing to share. What I can say is all they’re trying to do is draw attention and get a big audience. [Lonzo Ball] has proved nothing yet, although he may have a bright future. I don’t think his family’s approach is right, but you have to respect it. When he’s in the NBA, we’ll be waiting for him.
Do you think many players will be waiting for that opportunity to play against Lonzo and his brothers whenever they make it to the league?
JH: Yes, for sure. It’s going to be cool when the season begins and he gets to face the guys who have been around for many years and who deserve respect. You have to respect those guys and their families. Basketball is about respect. You will never see LeBron talking about or criticizing other players’ families or stepping into trouble because he’s a pro and a legend. But [Lonzo] is young, his family is the way it is and you just have to deal with it.