In an instant, seemingly, Nuggets forward Juancho Hernangomez goes from playing against his boyhood basketball idols – Pau and Marc Gasol – during his rookie season, to playing alongside them. That’s the power of FIBA EuroBasket 2017, where the rapidly-improving Hernangomez also gets to play alongside his brother, Willy.
The European tournament, played every two years, is a study in familiar storylines. Yet those storylines feature new faces. Juancho Hernangomez is an embodiment of that, playing for a Spain team that – as usual – is the favorite to win, which would give them back-to-back titles because they won in 2015. In fact, Spain has won three of the last four tournaments.
However, the Spaniards are missing a number of familiar faces due to injuries and other reasons. Hernangomez, 21, is the youngest in a growing group of twenty-somethings that are getting their feet wet and are readying themselves to eventually take over as stalwarts like the 37-year old Pau Gasol are likely playing in their last EuroBasket.
Hernangomez will be on the court, playing as a reserve for the world’s No. 2-ranked team. Meanwhile, on the bench is Nuggets assistant coach Jordi Fernandez, who is part of Spain’s coaching staff for the tournament.
While there are many NBA players who have opted not to play in this EuroBasket, such as Serbia’s Nikola Jokic (Nuggets), Italy’s Danilo Gallinari (Clippers), Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), and France’s Rudy Gobert (Jazz), this tournament could be a big boost for some of the younger players who are playing. Hernangomez fits that bill. He flashed big-time potential with the Nuggets during the 2016-17 season, his rookie season, and now gets his first taste of big-time international action.
These three weeks have potential to be valuable experience for Hernangomez, who continues to hunt down game repetitions of all kinds this summer to fast-track his improvement as a player. In July, he played three games with the Nuggets summer league team, averaging 16.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists. He’ll look to be more solid from the field, however, after shooting 37.5 percent in those games in Las Vegas.
Hernangomez is the only Nuggets player participating in the tournament because Jokic opted to skip the competition in order to be fully rested and ready for his third NBA season, which starts in September with training camp on the University of Colorado campus. And word is Jokic has had a solid summer of improving his strength and conditioning as well as improving his overall skills – which is a scary thought to anyone who has the task of guarding him next season.
But until then, the spotlight is on Hernangomez and Spain, who start play in Group C on Friday against Montenegro. The EuroBasket tournament overall begins on Thursday. The group phase is round robin, where 24 teams are trimmed to 16 for the single-elimination Round of 16, which starts on Sept. 9. The tournament ends on Sept. 17 with the third-place and championship games.
Odds are Hernangomez and Spain will be there on that final day.
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com or @chrisadempsey on Twitter.