Wantcho no mono? Gotcho no mono.
Ok, raise your hand if you thought Juan Hernangomez bout with mono last season was a much smaller deal than it turned out to be. Mononucleosis is like a middle-school affliction, right? The “kissing disease” robbed Juancho of most of last season and had him thin and still struggling when he was able to return. It was a disappointment after the promise of his rookie season.
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In that campaign, he averaged nearly 14 minutes per game and shot 44/41/75 playing in 62 games (9 starts). It was exciting and coupled with the knowledge that the Nuggets could decline the team option on Wilson Chandler‘s contract, led many to believe Juancho might be the small forward of the future for the Nuggets.
The mono and his decline last season threw a monkey wrench into all of those ideas. Denver did decline Ill Will’s option but re-signed Will Barton to start at the 3. Nobody is complaining about Barton but Hernangomez had suddenly become a question mark.
With Barton and the recently drafted MPJ at the 3, we had to start wondering if Juancho wasn’t destined for the end of the bench or worse, a trade. One moment changed all of that and thrust Juancho into a starting role with the Will Barton injury.
With the Nuggets leading the Golden State Warriors 100-98 and just six seconds on the game clock, Damian Jones took a pass from Stephen Curry under the basket that looked to be a sure dunk. Juancho blocked the shot and secured the biggest win (at the time) of the season.
That led to his supplanting Torrey Craig as Barton’s replacement in the starting lineup and culminated in Juancho’s 27-point, 13-rebound performance on Wednesday. He nearly singlehandedly kept the Nuggets in the game and showed us that he’s another weapon in the Nuggets growing arsenal. As good as Hernangomez has been as a starter, it raises questions about Barton’s role on his return. Particularly since we are in the final days of December, past the time that Barton was supposed to return and we’re still told the same vague things. Thrill may need some time to get up-to-speed even when he returns. What a relief to have a battle-tested Hernangomez to fill that gap.
Another player that’s risen to the challenges for the Nuggets: