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What our Utah Jazz beat writer thought of ‘Hustle’ and Juancho Hernangomez’s performance

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From left, Jordan Hull, Queen Latifah, Adam Sandler and Juancho Hernangomez pose together at the premiere of the film “Hustle,” Wednesday, June 1, 2022, at the Regency Village Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

From left, Jordan Hull, Queen Latifah, Adam Sandler and Juancho Hernangomez pose together at the premiere of the film “Hustle,” Wednesday, June 1, 2022, at the Regency Village Theatre in Los Angeles.

Chris Pizzello, Invision via Associated Press

I have absolutely no credentials as a movie critic. I honestly don’t even watch movies that often, so this is not going to be a review of the movie “Hustle” that includes a bird’s-eye view analysis of Adam Sandler’s career or asks questions about genre, lighting, movement of plot, or anything else that might appeal to a classic film buff.

This is a movie review from an NBA reporter.

When the closing credits rolled at the end of “Hustle,” I wholeheartedly felt like I’d just finished a movie that was made almost exclusively for NBA junkies, and as a proud NBA junkie myself, I was a satisfied customer.

The access to, and inclusion of, the real NBA world was so impressive. The number of active NBA players, coaches, staffers, executives and personalities who made an appearance in the film is staggering.

That Sandler loves basketball is more clear in this movie than anything else is, and I can appreciate that.

For those who have not seen “Hustle,” a general synopsis: Stanley Sugerman (Sandler) is an ultratalented international scout for the Philadelphia 76ers. He lives on the road and loves the game, but he ultimately wants to be home with his family and be a coach.

The owner of the Sixers, Rex Merrick (played by Robert Duvall), wanted to put Sugerman on the coaching bench but he dies and his son Vince (Ben Foster), an absolutely rotten person, takes over the team.

After drafting Haas (the Orlando Magic’s Moe Wagner) against Sugerman’s advice, Vince takes Sugerman off the bench and sends him back out on the road to find “the missing piece,” promising that he’ll give Sugerman a coaching position once he completes his mission.

Sugerman finds Bo Cruz (the Utah Jazz’s Juancho Hernangomez) playing pick-up at a park in Spain.

Well, Cruz is actually dominating and ruining guys at the park, but he’s doing it all while wearing work boots.

Cruz is a construction worker who hustles at the park in his free time. Sugerman knows Cruz is special and wants to bring him to the NBA.

Sugerman convinces Cruz to leave his mother and daughter to go prepare for the NBA draft, but Vince, the guy running the Sixers, isn’t interested.

So Sugerman and Cruz set out on a journey to get him prepared for the draft and selected without the help of the team.

Spoiler alert: It works, and along the way, Sugerman and Cruz develop a bond that goes beyond basketball.

That’s the plain-Jane summary, but there are such great moments throughout this movie, starting with a montage of Sugerman being in amazing cities but still eating Burger King and Pizza Hut on his hotel bed.

I know that there have been criticisms about this movie’s product placement, but as someone who spends my life following the NBA and living out of hotels, it was so true to life to see this that it made me feel seen.

There are also emotional points that tugged at all the right heart strings and reminded me why I love this game.

While the NBA, as a business, can sometimes dry up the things that make basketball so emotionally beautiful, I feel like it’s often stories that keep the deeper meaning alive, even if they are fictional stories.

I also really appreciated all of the nods to Philadelphia. As someone who spent many years living in Philly, it’s a special place to me, and the movie offered nostalgia.

I know that I said there was a large NBA/basketball presence in the movie, but that might be an understatement.

From Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson and Villanova head coach Jay Wright to famed streetballers, NBA superfan Jimmy Goldstein and Boston Celtics general manager Brad Stevens.

There are cameos from Sixers head coach Doc Rivers, assistant coach Dave Joerger, Milwaukee Bucks wing Khris Middleton, the Miami Heat’s Kyle Lowry, Hall of Famer Julius ‘Dr. J’ Erving.

If I were to list every person of note or player who made an appearance it might end up longer than the rest of this article, but because of the cameos, it makes everything feel so much more realistic and likable for the NBA diehards.

There’s a scene in which Sugerman is scouting a player in Serbia played by 33-year-old Boban Marjanovic, who swears that he is 22 — thus still eligible for the NBA draft.

It is comedically great, and for people who love the NBA, seeing Marjanovic do or say anything is always lovable and wonderful.

Former player and current “Inside the NBA” personality Kenny ‘The Jet’ Smith plays Sugerman’s best friend and an NBA agent.

I’ve read other reviews that criticize the dialogue and the comedic timing, but I think that there is a realness to how these characters all talk to each other that feels a lot more natural than many scripted movies.

The same goes for Minnesota Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards, who plays the antagonist to Bo Cruz and is not only excellent as a villain but also believable because trash-talking is such a love language of the NBA.

The montages of Cruz working out and doing weird, hand-eye dribbling drills with tires and plungers and wall-mounted blinking lights are true to life, and all of the behind the scenes looks at how the NBA world works and how much it’s about connections and secret workouts was so nice to see on the silver screen.

As for Hernangomez’s performance in “Hustle,” I was shocked by how believable he was and how much I was rooting for the character despite knowing him in real life.

I was not shocked at how sweet and caring he came across, since that’s how he comes across in person.

The scenes between Hernangomez and Edwards are some of my favorite and I was audibly excited by them.

I understand that some people are going to think that the plot is not original and this is not going to be as action-packed as some other feature films with the kind of special effects and excitement that people have come to love.

It’s also not going to be the most dramatic, Oscar-worthy movie you see, but if you love basketball and you want to watch a fun movie that is going to make you feel happy, you should watch “Hustle.’