Joakim Noah has finally found more consistency rebounding the ball and hasn't played up to his former disappearing act as of late, and the Knicks also want to experiment more with Kristaps Porzingis at the center position.
The above developments sensibly limit Willy Hernangomez's opportunities, but he's still making the most of them. As he continues to do so, Kyle O'Quinn's minutes have decreased. It's not as if he is playing poorly, but Hernangomez has just been too good to ignore.
Over his last four appearances, Hernangomez has averaged 11.6 points (on 63 percent shooting from the field) and 10.5 rebounds in just 19.8 minutes per game. That's pretty impressive. The Knicks have gone 2-2 in that span, with Hernangomez boasting a plus/minus of +9 or better in three out of four matchups.
The young gun has also received two DNP-CD's since January 15 despite his stellar play. The Knicks have been extremely hesitant to play him substantial minutes, if at all, in the midst of back-to-back contests this season.
Given their other options at the four and five, the Knicks have been smart in exercising a patient approach with Hernangomez, who has the potential to play a huge role in this team's future. New York has been successfully creative with finding young talent, despite not having many draft picks. Hernangomez, a second-round pick in 2015, could play a very key complementary role to Kristaps Porzingis as this team continues to build.
Perhaps with that in mind, the Knicks have been very careful not to burn Hernangomez out or overuse him. After playing overseas, Hernangomez certainly isn't used to the physical grind of an NBA season. Head coach Jeff Hornacek is still easing him into things while he learns the stateside game and copes with the sometimes grueling schedule.
Given their recent ups and downs, the Knicks will have to make decisions on the direction they choose to go the rest of the way. Whatever they decide, however, Hernangomez has put the pressure on this team to increase his minutes.
If New York decides to go forward with a youth movement and plan toward the draft, the 22-year-old obviously factors into that. But if they instead decide they've invested too much into this season to let it all go to waste, it's clear Hernangomez can help them win as well.
Comparing him to Noah and O'Quinn, Hernangomez is arguably the most versatile of the three. Perhaps he's taking pointers from his "unicorn" teammate Porzingis. Hernangomez is obviously a very physical player underneath the basket on both ends of the floor.
Hernangomez is not one to shy away from challenges, and that much has been clear for a while. But as he's begun to develop and exhibit more polish in his game, the big man has displayed a sound understanding of the game's fundamentals, rolls really well in the pick and roll, and has improved his mid-range jumper.
Hernangomez, who has proven to be one of the team's most productive per minute players all season long. is making it hard for the Knicks to keep him down, regardless of how many quality bigs they have.