Willy Hernangomez of the New Orleans Pelicans has helped lead his home country of Spain to the finals of the FIBA EuroBasket tournament with a thrilling win over Germany in the semi-finals last night.
Hernangomez has been lights out for Spain, stepping up and making a big impact in an expanded role from what he normally has in the NBA.
In fact, the Pelicans have two of the top centers in all of FIBA, with both Hernangomez and Jonas Valanciunas putting up big performances in international play.
The Pels have a third possible center in Jaxson Hayes, though he played a lot of his time at power forward last season. But with Zion Williamson returning, and a full season of Larry Nance Jr., Hayes may find it harder to get minutes, which could lead to a trade.
The Pelicans have until next month to extend Hayes on his rookie deal, so it’s unclear if they see him as part of the long-term plans.
With increased depth at the forward spot, Hayes could be pushed to backup center if they do decide to keep him, but the question is whether he should really get minutes there over Willy Hernangomez.
New Orleans Pelicans: Willy Hernangomez or Jaxson Hayes at backup center?
Jaxson Hayes is the more versatile player overall, but the Pelicans have plenty of guys who can play power forward who are more consistent and better shooters than Hayes, so his best path towards minutes might be backing up Jonas Valanciunas.
Hayes is clearly a higher-ceiling talent than Hernangomez and is still only 22-years-old. If you are shooting for potential, Hayes is your guy.
But Hernangomez has been solid in his career and is far more consistent from night to night. He’s also a guy who doesn’t mind coming off the bench and will do whatever the team asks. He’s a better rebounder and defender than Hayes, though Hayes has more upside offensively and is a freak athlete who can do things Willy can only dream of doing on a basketball court.
There is also the fact that Hayes has potential as a long-range shooter, which is something the Pelicans need. Hernangomez is solid, but he is what he is, while Hayes still has another level or two to reach if he can figure some things out.
Willy was the more efficient player last season with a 22.2 PER to Hayes’ 18.5, but Hayes played in more games and was logging more minutes than Hernangomez.
You then have to factor in contracts, as Hernangomez makes less than half of Hayes’ salary and is locked in to another two seasons, while Hayes is due for an extension and probably a decent raise.
Hayes’ potential will probably win out, but Hernangomez’s consistency and his recent international play have to have the Pelicans wondering if they should invest more in a backup power forward/center or just go with the minimum guy who has always been solid.