Digging for Diamonds – Juan Hernangomez and Thon Maker
In recent months I’ve examined hoops prospects I find interesting that may be worth acquiring or picking up on the waiver wire, depending on the size of your league. In yet another International Men of Mystery version of Digging for Diamonds, I’ll focus on 2016 1st round picks, Juan Hernangomez and Thon Maker.
Let me state off the top – for first round picks, we have very limited information on these two. Information is good – it’s what allowed some to recognize Nikola Jokic as bonafied with confidence where others may have been skeptical. With a larger data set to work with, dynasty owners may have known to avoid someone like bust-in-the-making, Dante Exuum, who had played in very few professional games when the Utah Jazz selected him in the lottery back in 2014.
With that said, let’s look at what we do know, starting with Hernangomez. The younger brother of Knicks big and former Digging for Diamond focus, Willy Hernangomez, Juan was generally considered to be the superior prospect. Here’s what Kevin Pelton said about him in his June writeup –
The younger brother of 2015 Knicks second-round pick Willy Hernangomez, Juan is a stretch-4 prospect who developed into a starter in the Spanish ACB this season at age 20.
More than 40 percent of Hernangomez’s attempts came from beyond the arc, and he made them at a healthy 35.8 percent clip. For a perimeter-oriented big man, Hernangomez is also a strong defensive rebounder.
Hernangomez STATS-only WARP projection was good for fourth best in the draft, but we shouldn’t entirely discount the fact that professional general managers let him fall to 15.
What I like about the 21-year-old Hernangomez is that he’s a modern day “stretch four,” meaning his game fits well with what coaches want to do to win real life games. His shaky free throw shooting and accuracy in his native Spain suggest that his shooting will regress, but he’s currently posting a TS% above 60%, which is mighty impressive for a rook (granted it comes with low volume). I believe he’s the Nuggets power forward of the future, sliding into the starting lineup alongside Jokic. Faried is better suited for a reserve role where he can use his energy to cause havoc against second units. We already know Jusuf Nurkic is viewed as a backup by the Nuggets.
Conclusion: The early returns (13.78 PER, shooting accuracy, low turnovers and decent steals and blocks) suggest Hernangomez can develop into a starting caliber player and flirt with top 50 value in the future depending on his development. He’s comfortably inside my top top 150 on my February top 200 update and I expect that ranking to steadily rise as the Nuggets continue to phase out Faried.
Remember what I said about limited information? Thon Maker didn’t have enough statistical data to merit a WARP projection or CARMELO forecast, so we’re left with our eyes, intuition, a little over 100 NBA regular season minutes and sweet high school mix tapes. The first thing you’ll notice about Thon Maker is his Length (TM Official Basketball Lingo, all rights reserved). The next thing you’ll notice is that he kiiiinda’ reminds you of Kevin Durant in that he’s a lanky big with handles and a sweet stroke. I am not saying he’s KD, but after a career night on Wednesday 2/1, Maker has forced dynasty owners to pay attention.
The 10th overall pick, 19-year-old Thon Maker has a few things going for him right now. First – the Bucks depth chart at center is a barren wasteland after Greg Monroe, who the Bucks clearly want nothing to do with and don’t view as a legitimate rim protector. There are other bodies, sure, but there’s no one there deserving of significant playing time. I was a John Henson believer for many years, but he isn’t a good enough defender to justify his lane clogging ways on offense. Meanwhile, Thon Maker attempt four threes on Wednesday (and made three of them). How’s that for modern NBA big?
I ranked Thon Maker 132nd on the February top 200 list, mostly because we have such little information about him and I wanted to be conservative, but I now think that was way too low. The concerns about him that I’ve seen, in my opinion, are increasingly irrelevant. He doesn’t have the strength to deny bigs in the post? How many of those guys still exist? He doesn’t have post moves? Who cares?
Conclusion: Get on this train, folks. Maker doesn’t have the draft pedigree of a Joel Embiid, but he could be part of the next generation of shot block, three-popping centers. His size, skills and situation make me feel comfortable gambling on him as a top 100 dynasty asset and if you’re out of contention and looking to reload, I would not be shy about gambling on him by trading a Harrison Barnes or George Hill type. The shot blocking ability alone gives him a reasonably high floor if he can earn a spot in the rotation. One thing that may cap his upside – Maker has one assist in the NBA… one!
Previously on “Digging for Diamonds”