The headline when the Timberwolves reshaped their roster earlier this month, of course, was D’Angelo Russell is coming.
Karl-Anthony Towns’ friend, the point guard who could score. A player the Wolves believed could put some pop into the pick-and-pop. Towns’ wrist injury has limited that experiment to just one game. Still, Russell was the crown jewel in a very busy first week of February.
But the biggest story so far could be the way a couple other players have taken advantage of the opportunity presented when they came to Minnesota:
Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez.
Both players came from Denver, where they were spending more time on the bench than on the court on a deep team currently second in the Western Conference. Both will return for the Wolves’ game in Denver on Sunday as starters playing the heaviest minutes of their career.
Beasley, who scored 27 points Friday against Boston, has been the flashier of the two, averaging 23.3 on 46% shooting, including 44% on threes, in 33.5 minutes a game. But Hernangomez is also, in his short sample size with the Wolves, putting up some of the best numbers of his career.
In four games with the Wolves — all starts — Hernangomez is averaging 29 minutes, 15.5 points on 44% shooting, including 53% on threes.
All are career highs.
A power forward who can stretch the floor and has some defensive flexibility, Hernangomez is trying hard to re-energize his relatively young career.
“It’s fun,’’ he said this week. “It’s the chance I’ve been working for all my life. I just try to enjoy, play hard and do my thing.’’
A native of Spain, Hernangomez was taken by Denver with the 15th overall pick in the 2016 draft. He played in 62 games with nine starts as a rookie, averaging 4.9 points. His second season was all but wiped out after he was diagnosed with mononucleosis and was limited to just 25 games.
His third season started off well — he ended up playing in 70 games with 25 starts in 2018-19 — but the last half of that season was marred by what was eventually diagnosed as a core muscle injury, one that required postseason surgery.
By the time he returned to camp last fall, Hernangomez found himself buried in a depth chart deep at his position. He averaged just over 12 minutes per game, posting career lows in shooting percentage (.345) and three-point shooting (.250).
“I didn’t have a chance [to play significant minutes],’’ he said. “But I don’t regret it. Denver has a lot of good players. We were a really, really deep team. I didn’t have the chance. The team let me go, and I’m thankful for what they did. And I’m thankful for the chance I’ve got right now. I just want to play hard and have fun.’’
It’s one thing to get an opportunity, another to take advantage of it.
He has scored in double figures in all four games with the Wolves, and has hit at least one three-pointer in each game. He went 3-for-3 from deep and had 14 points in his debut in the Wolves’ victory over the Clippers. Against Charlotte just before the All Star break he had 16 points and 12 rebounds, the sixth double-double of his career.
Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said he thinks Hernangomez will blend well with Towns win the Wolves center returns.
“I think his ability to cut is something that will help Karl,’’ Saunders said. “But I also think Karl will be able to help Juancho.’’
When Jake Layman, another mobile power forward with similar skills, returns, he likely will take some minutes from Hernangomez. But he has done the most with what he’s been given so far. Now the Wolves have the rest of the season to decided whether Hernangomez, due to be a restricted free agent this summer, will be a part of the future of the team.
So far, so good.
“I think that’s pretty normal with guys who have talent,’’ Saunders said. “Guys who are hungry, too, to compete. Hungry to play a bigger role. We feel Juancho is going to continue to get better and better.’’