Willy Hernangomez has been a positive in a lost season for the Knicks, but he's got a few areas he needs to improve in.
The Knicks have found a potential high-level starter in Willy Hernangomez. His skill in the post, as well as his ability to collect rebounds separates him from Joakim Noah and Kyle O'Quinn, but it's clear that Hernangomez has serious flaws to his game. Hernangomez has played 100% of his minutes as the center, via basketball-reference. It's time that the Knicks play him as the power forward on defense and Kristaps Porzingis as the center.
To preface this, it's clear that as an organization, the number one priority for the rest of the season is to find a way to play Porzingis and Hernangomez together and not get killed on the perimeter. Porzingis has shown he can be one of the best rim protectors in the game, but he lacks the lateral quickness to guard small-ball fours behind the arc.
Hernangomez, on the other hand, has the strength to guard centers, but he is only average at protecting the rim. One of the more pleasing nuances to the season is seeing how well Hernangomez has defended the pick and roll. He allows for some switching and he seems to have the lateral quickness to at least be somewhat of road block to opposing guards.
Strength-wise, it seems almost ludicrous to play Porzingis against the bigger bodies and have Hernangomez defend power forwards, but it makes sense when you plug in the numbers. Hernangomez actually allows a slightly higher opposing field goal percentage against his opponents from 15 feet or further out (37.5% compared to Porzingis' 37%).
It's really not that big of a difference, and the eye test can tell you that it's actually not too much of an issue when Porzingis defends a spot up shooter - it's when power forwards throw a pump fake and drive right by him. That's not an easy thing to compare in stats. Hernangomez doesn't bite on those pump fakes as much and just plays conservative defense with his feet on the perimeter.
For most of the year, Porzingis was right up there with Rudy Gobert in field goal percentage allowed at the rim, right in that low 40's range. That's an astonish stat, and the Knicks have to maximize that. If that means Hernangomez has to be exposed a little more on defense, so be it.
The other big issue that has risen from Hernangomez' rookie season is his carelessness with the ball. His turnover percentage is 16.8%. He's had 12 more turnovers than assists this season, and it's not just things like traveling (which he got called for a lot early in the season, but he has since toned down). He's tried to make fancy passes way too often, which you can be a little encouraged by because it's nice seeing a player with so much self-confidence.
The problem is, turnover rate isn't an easy thing to fix. Porzingis recorded a 10.9% turnover rate last year, and he has wound it back to 9.7% this year, but that has also coincided with a drop in his assist percentage.
The Knicks would love to see Porzingis and Hernangomez running a selfless offense, however, it's a very difficult task to change a young player's passing habits without infringing on their creativity on the court.
The pairing of Porzingis and Hernangomez is not seamless, but the Knicks have got to do everything they can tomaximizee their effectiveness on both sides of the ball.