Willy Hernangomez wasn’t part of those summer pickup games involving his old teammate Carmelo Anthony and other NBA stars. But the second-year center picked up some valuable tips battling a couple of savvy star big men during the offseason.
Playing for Spain in the European Championships, Hernangomez practiced with Pau and Marc Gasol every day. The Gasol brothers have nine All-Star appearances between them. They helped get Hernangomez prepared for his second NBA season, when he’s expected to play a larger role for the Knicks, who faced the Nets in a preseason game Sunday night.
“Being in EuroBasket, being with the Gasol brothers every day, I think is something special,” said Hernangomez, who started and led the Knicks with 17 points and 12 rebounds in a 117-83 loss at Barclays Center. “I think I’m really a more complete player right now. So I feel like Gasol brothers, helped me a lot. They gave me great advice.”
The Gasol brothers can score inside and out and may be the NBA’s two best passing centers in the league. Hernangomez, 23, is skilled inside and decent passer. Marc is a former Defensive Player of the Year. That’s where Hernangomez needs the most work.
“They told me a couple tricks,” Hernangomez said. “How to read the defense, tricks on how to be more focused during the game, before a game, so I can be more ready.
“On offense, a couple tricks that Pau showed me. Marc, how to play more in the low post, how to read the defense. Because now everybody knows me a little bit more, so I have to do better passes. I think it’s going to be a great challenge for me and I’m ready for it.”
Hernangomez was a Knicks’ bright spot last season. He averaged 8.2 points and 7.0 rebounds, earning him a spot on the All-Rookie First-Team, and was second on the team with 11 double-doubles. His play led to the Knicks making him a cornerstone player in their youth movement.
The Knicks have to clean up the logjam at center with Hernangomez, Enes Kanter, Joakim Noah and Kyle O’Quinn on the roster. But Hernangomez is trying to learn as much defensively from Noah and offensively from Kanter.
“For me, it’s special,” Hernangomez said. “I think it’s going to be a challenge trying to fight for minutes and try to do the best.”
Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said Hernangomez seems more comfortable from all his experiences and he believes he will continue to improve.
“When you play at a high level like the EuroBasket, he’s been playing with Marc and Pau for a while, so that obviously helps him to learn,” Hornacek said. “Now it’s his opportunity to go out there and just continue that great work that he did last year.”
Kristaps Porzingis didn’t play in the second half because of a sore right hip. He finished with six points and three blocks in 16 first-half minutes . . . Rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina (bruised right knee) missed his second straight game. Hornacek said he “most likely” won’t play Monday versus Houston either. Ntilikina expects to play in Friday’s preseason finale . . . Ron Baker (sore left ankle) plans to make his preseason debut Monday night.