Juancho Hernangomez’s first five games of the NBA season were … rough.
The 6-foot-9 Timberwolves forward wasn’t scoring or hitting shots, and wasn’t all that active on either end of the floor. His playing time was sporadic, too, likely another product of poor play.
So in some way, it was a surprise to see him inserted into the starting lineup, but in another way not.
Hernangomez played well in Minnesota after the Wolves acquired the Spaniard in a trade deadline deal last year with Denver. He provided an offensive spark, scoring 13 points a game while shooting 42 percent from 3-point range as the team’s starting power forward.
When the Wolves signed the restricted free agent to a 3-year, $21 million deal this offseason, it was fair to assume he was heading right back into that spot in the lineup.
But Hernangomez wasn’t able to start training camp on time as he went through health and safety protocols. This came after he missed the team’s offseason mini camp while filming a movie with Adam Sandler. He hasn’t sidestepped the fact that he’s been working off the rust early in the season.
“It’s just eight months without 5-on-5 competition is really hard for every player,” Hernangomez said. “The teams in the NBA games right now are kind of struggling. You see some of the scores are crazy, but it’s just getting back in a 5-on-5 setting … but it’s just a matter of time.”
Hernangomez said starting is a big deal for him, but he has mentioned the importance of earning consistent minutes in the past. He said he “felt great” in Minnesota’s 124-109 loss to Denver on Sunday.
“I feel I’m getting back in shape, back into a rhythm,” he said. “It’s getting close, it’s getting close. I feel better with my body, better in shape. … I think it’s a matter of time until the shot is going to fall down and I’m going to play better.”
Hernangomez finished with just six points and five rebounds Sunday, while going 3 for 10 from the field and 0 for 3 from deep, but coach Fyan Saunders felt the forward had “some good defensive possessions,” was strong on the glass and missed a couple of shots that “he’ll usually make.”
“So for that reason, I see progress with Juancho,” Saunders said.
Does that mean Hernangomez will stick in the starting lineup? Not necessarily. Saunders likely won’t tinker with the rotation after the Wolves showed some improvement Sunday, but as long as the team continues to lose games, minutes aren’t guaranteed to anyone, even with the commitment the Wolves have made to Hernangomez to this point.
“You never know how many minutes you’re going to play before the game. It’s about how good you play,” Hernangomez said. “We are a deep team. Everybody can show up and play really, really good for the team. So that means you have to compete extra hard. It is what it is in the game.”