Davis Bertans is set to get paid a hefty sum even in a weak free-agency class. But could Juan Hernangomez offer the Chicago Bulls similar upside?
With the Chicago Bulls expected to be bargain shopping, if at all, what can they do to improve the roster? It is a simple enough question but the answer is anything but. For one thing, hiring a new coach is expected to do wonders for the young core of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter, and Coby White.
But the Bulls can’t stop there. They have to be forward-thinking in getting more talented because they are admittedly dealing with negative perceptions from the outside. Free agents not signing in Chicago has long been an issue but recently it was reported that part of the reason they haven’t fired Jim Boylen is that Rick Carlisle (president of the National Basketball Coaches Association) has been telling coaches to avoid the Bulls for how they treat the position.
The Bulls have a nasty history of firing coaches around the holidays.
Regardless, finding the talent to improve the roster will mean digging deeper than the surface level counting stats. Chicago, to have any substantial improvement over last season, will need to unearth so hidden gems.
One of those gems needs to be Juan Hernangomez. The Spanish forward just finished his fourth season in the NBA and first with the Minnesota Timberwolves after being part of the four-team trade that sent Clint Capela to Atlanta and Robert Covington to Houston. If he is allowed to walk, he can be so much more than he has been.
You might see his career averages of 5.3 points and 3.4 rebounds and not think much of him. But Hernangomez has ability very similar to Washington Wizards free agent Davis Bertans. And this goes beyond the surface of both being international players with similar builds; Bertans is listed at 6’10”, 225 lbs while Hernangomez checks in at 6’9”, 220 lbs.
Both players spent the start of their careers on the bench, not even averaging double digits. Bertans is a better shooter, knocking down 41 percent of his threes in his career including 42 percent with the Wizards on a career-high 8.7 attempts per game.
Hernangomez is no slouch, though. He’s a career 36 percent shooter from deep himself and hasn’t been given the kind of role Bertans has. At least not yet.
We got a glimpse of what could be when Hernangomez got traded to Minnesota. In 14 games with increased duties (29.4 minutes per contest), Juancho averaged a healthy 12.9 points and 7.3 rebounds. Hernangomez scored double digits in 10 of those 14 games and hit multiple threes in nine. He has proven more effective as a starter (39.6 three-point percentage) than off the bench (32.5 percent), which could complicate things.
Another area of concern, for Hernangomez and the Bulls, is his free throw shooting. A career 72 percent free throw shooter, his numbers this season were bad; falling to 62 percent. But he was above 76 percent for his career before that so there is hope he can regain his form. Chicago was 21st in free throw percentage so that would be an area of contention.
Again, he isn’t the shooter Bertans is. But he provides versatility off the bench the Bulls currently lack.
Thaddeus Young is 32 and, while he was brought in for his veteran presence, has talked of wanting out of Chicago in the past (under the previous regime). Perhaps he can be flipped for a second-round pick; something to get his $13.5 million off the books.
The Bulls will still look very much the same when the 2020-21 season tips off. But they can tweak this existing unit, and add competent coaching, a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference isn’t out of the question. Hernangomez won’t put the Bulls over the top. But he can strengthen their case. And for a team that is still in the developing talent stage, adding more for cheap is always a good call.