Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 70 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This report breaks down Maryland big man Bruno Fernando.
Bruno Fernando dipped his toes in the 2018 NBA draft process but chose return to Maryland for his sophomore season. One year later, his stock has improved and the young big man from Angola is a potential first round pick as a result.
When it comes to NBA prospects, there is no doubt that Fernando passes the eye test. Even at the age of 20, he is big, strong and lean with an NBA ready body. At the Combine, he measured 6’10.25 (with shoes) with a wing span of 7’3.25. He weighed in at 237 pounds with a body fat of 5.4%. He possesses a relatively rare combination of size, length and athleticism.
For a youthful center at his size, he moves and covers space very well. Fernando is a physical presence on the court, willing to use his body without being a clunky, stationary big man. He gets up and down the floor well. He is athletic enough to get from the weak side of the defense to provide rim protection without completely abandoning the man he is guarding. He is an explosive enough player work as a rim runner and dunker, getting to the rim before opposing defense can rotate and cut him off.
Much of Fernando’s offensive game is played above the rim. He can catch and finish at the rim, even in traffic. He is also is very comfortable in alley-oop plays coming out of pick-and-roll action.
One of Fernando’s biggest strengths is that he plays with a very high motor. NBA coaches will love the effort and energy he brings to the court. His physicality and intensity are sure to have an impact on the game, especially in the areas of screening, defending the paint and working on the boards.
If focused on his size, athleticism and intensity alone, one might believe he should be a candidate for a late lottery or mid-first round pick. In fact, mock drafts have been all over the place on Fernando, but the consensus of late is that he is a late first (or even early second) round pick because, with all of his upside, there are some glaring questions about the overall readiness of his game.
At times, a player’s strength can also be a weakness. Fernando has a tendency to be error-prone, as he sometimes relies too much on his size and athleticism and less on discipline and court awareness. As a freshman, he consistently struggled with foul trouble, but he did improve dramatically in this area as a sophomore.
He is a willing passer who can find open players when he’s working in the post or attacking off the dribble. In his second year of college basketball, Fernando dished out 2.0 assists per game, an impressive number of a player of his profile and role. However, he also led his team in turnovers (2.8 per game), an even rarer feat for a player of his profile and role.
NBA talent evaluators are certainly trying to assess how Fernando projects as a shooter. As a college player, the vast majority of his offensive work took place at or near the rim. In two seasons, he only took 13 shots from behind the three-point line but he did make four of those for a rate of 30.8%. On rare occasions, he did show an ability to make a mid-range jumper when opposing defenses sagged. All of that said, any takeaways from his jump shooting must carry the caveat of extremely minimal volume.
The biggest mark in his favor as a shooter is the solid free throw shooting he provided the Terps. After shooting 74.0% as a freshman, he improved 77.9% as a sophomore on 4.3 attempts per game. As free throw shooting provides a strong correlation to upside as a shooter, many NBA teams will likely believe Fernando has some real upside as a shooter. Just how much upside he has in that area is tough to project.
The riddle that NBA teams will need to solve with Fernando is assessing his capacity to learn the NBA game. Can he grow his court awareness and play with discipline? If he brings as much mental effort to his focus and “coachability” as he does to his physical approach on the court, he could be a definite gem in this draft class.
Perhaps, Montrezl Harrell is a worthy comparison for Fernando. Harrell was an early second round pick of the Rockets in 2015. He managed a limited role as a rookie and relied almost exclusively on physicality and effort to make an impact on the game. In his second season, he showed growth in the mental aspects of the game and became a rotational player before being traded to the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade. He just completed his fourth NBA season an indispensable big off the bench for a team that clawed its way to a playoff berth in the Western Conference.
The comparison to Harrell has some legitimate threads. However, it should also be noted that Fernando enters the league as a younger, bigger player with a much better foundation as a shooter when compared to the Clippers big man.
His projection as a late first round or early second round pick likely results from the impression that his ceiling is that of a role player. NBA teams are very interested in prospects who can shoot and/or create offense. Nevertheless, the very best of NBA teams rely heavily on role players and depth to distinguish them from second tier teams. While Fernando may not have a legitimate All-Star ceiling in the modern NBA, teams should not discount his potential to be a very impactful player.
As the Hawks hold three picks in the top half of the second round, Fernando could certainly be in play. If the Atlanta does select him, it could be seen as a bit of a deviation for GM Travis Schlenk, as his focus over the past two summers has been to draft players with stronger offensive profiles as they enter the league. The approach seems to belie a notion that the team can develop players on the defensive end of the floor.
An investment in Fernando would require development on both ends of the floor, but if the Hawks focus on the guard and wing spots with the No. 8 and No. 10 picks in the first round, the big young man from Angola might be just the fit for the Hawks in the second round if, by chance, he slips to No. 35 overall.