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How Juancho Hernangómez is taking advantage of an unexpected opportunity with the Jazz

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Utah Jazz forward Juancho Hernangomez (41) flicks down during the game against the Orlando Magic at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, February 11, 2022. The Jazz forward will star in an upcoming film by Adam Sandler. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

Estimated reading time: 3-4 minutes

CHARLOTTE — Juancho Hernongomez was already back lifting weights.

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It was moments after Utah’s 107-101 loss to Charlotte and Hernongomez was in the tunnels of Spectrum Center clutching some weight plates. Apparently, 28 minutes and scoring 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting weren’t enough work for the Spanish striker.

That has been the norm for Hernongomez since joining the Jazz. He always seems to be doing something, before or after a game, before or after practice. He’s doing an extra run, a few extra shots or going back to the weight room.

That made more sense in his first few weeks on the team when he played 18 total minutes in his first 14 games with the team. But since he played as an emergency substitute for the injured Bojan Bogdanoivc, Hermongómez has started five of the last six games and totaled more than 20 minutes in four of them.

Suddenly, the forward of the combo billed as a salary supplement in the trade that brought Nikeil Alexander-Walker to the Jazz is defending staying in the rotation even after Bogdanovic’s return.

“He broke glass early and got us some extra shots,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “Historically throughout his career he’s been really good for the corner, he’s about 40% catch and throw corner 3. That’s something he gave us tonight.”

Hernongomez went 4-for-6 from 3-point range, forcing a Charlotte team initially not too keen on protecting him to start shutting down, and added five rebounds.

“You can’t ask him to go out there and be Bojan Bogdanovic, but in the same way, he’s giving us effort, giving us plays,” Donovan Mitchell said. “… We trust him. And when you have that trust from your teammates, it’s easy to hit shots.”

Easy hasn’t been a word Hernangomez would likely use to describe this season. After all, there was a reason it was thought to be a throw-in for the trade to Utah. After 18 games with the Boston Celtics, he was traded to San Antonio. Then, after appearing in just five games with the Spurs, he was sent to Utah. It was a cross-country trip he never wanted, and a once-promising player’s NBA career seemed to be on life support.

When he arrived in Utah, he was shooting 21% from the field and 14% from deep in a shrinking role. In the last six games, he has shot 35% from deep on four attempts per game. They are not Bogdanovic numbers, but they are respectable.

“As a player, you have to be ready, stay ready and keep working on your game,” he said after Friday’s game. “I’ve been through a lot of changes, emotionally. I’ve changed a lot of teams, I’ve changed a lot of teammates, coaches, but you’re still the same player. You have to keep working on your game. Be positive, stay ready. The NBA is about opportunity. My opportunity came, just enjoy it and do the best you can”.

That has been the case for the past two weeks when he replaced Bogdanovic, and especially on Friday against the Hornets. Even if he’s still, understandably, picking up a new system.

“It’s a lot to be traded in here and then thrown into our system and then expected to start,” Mitchell said. “It’s a lot and I have to give him credit. You make mistakes, gaps and things like that defensively, but he’s learning as he goes. He can receive it and he’s been responsive.”

More than responsive, even; he is actively looking for it. If you spy on Hernangómez during a game stoppage, you will see a player asking everyone questions.

“We don’t have a lot of time to practice so you’re used to playing one way and they’re used to playing another way and you just have to find your form,” he said. “So I ask Don, Mike (Conley) a lot of questions, they help me a lot, even the coaches. I’m starting to understand and try to fit in with the team.”

That’s something he’ll continue to work on, before, after, and now during the games.

“He makes shots, he crashes, he defends, he makes those game-winning plays,” Mitchell said. “That’s all you can ask for.”

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