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Atlanta Hawks 2019-20 Player Preview: Bruno Fernando

The rookie big man makes his debut.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Maryland vs Belmont John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

In advance of the 2019-2020 season, the Peachtree Hoops staff will take a glance at each member of the roster in “player preview” fashion. This edition breaks down rookie big man Bruno Fernando.

As draft night approached in June, the Atlanta Hawks were set to make as many as six selections. By the time they selected Cam Reddish with the No. 10 pick, after taking De’Andre Hunter with the No. 4 pick, it seemed Atlanta’s night ended much earlier than expected. A flurry of trades left the impression Travis Schlenk had little interest in players available in the second round, until he traded back into the second round to choose Bruno Fernando with the No. 34 overall pick.

The 21-year-old big man from the University of Maryland was an intriguing prospect leading up to the draft. Credible draft projections had him mocked anywhere from the middle of the first round to the early part of the second round, where he ultimately landed. An incredible physical and athletic profile were offset by a relatively raw approach to the game and mild issues in translating to the NBA. Fernando seemed to fall into a sizable pool of reasonably high ceiling players with an uncertain NBA trajectory. Still, the Hawks were quite happy to snag him early in the second round.

There is little question that Fernando enters the league with the profile and potential of a first-round pick. In his two years playing for the Terrapins, he posted solid numbers for a big man playing a college game that seems to be more and more dominated by guard play. Averaging 13.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore earned a first-team spot on the All-Big Ten team. He was also named first team All-Big Ten Defensive Team.

Fernando’s college highlight reel is full of explosive plays for a man of his stature. At 6’10 and 237 pounds, he enters the league with the body of a legit NBA big. Add a wingspan of 7’3 to go with impressive athleticism and you have a player with significant potential upside. All of that said, there is a reason he lasted until the No. 34 pick.

It didn’t take much Summer League action to see that Fernando is not necessarily an NBA-ready player, much in the way of most rookies. In three games, he averaged just 4.3 points and 3.7 rebounds in 26.7 minutes of action per game. On the offensive end, his role was almost invisible. On the defensive end, he sometimes lacked the rhythm and timing to function as part a group working to defend together.

It isn’t entirely fair to make overt judgments from such limited Summer League action. For rookies, Summer League is far more an orientation period than an observation period. This is even truer for big men, as they are often asked to limit their offensive game to two or three basic actions while learning a new offensive system. Defensively, they are asked to rely less on instinct and more on cognitive reads and reactions.

As a college player, Fernando excelled using his size, athleticism, and instincts. He was typically bigger, faster, and stronger than his counterparts at the college level, but these advantages shrink as he moves to the NBA level. He will have to build a solid foundation of discipline and mental approach to match his physical profile if he is to become the NBA player the Hawks hope he can be. By pulling the trigger to move back into the second round to land him, the Hawks give every indication that they believe he can get there.

Fernando could not have found a more ideal landing spot coming out of the draft. The Hawks are rebuilding, despite being beyond Stage 1 of the rebuild. The Hawks are still committed to prioritizing development over a win at all costs approach at this time. Further, roster turnover has created more of a void at the center position than the team had a year ago. In all, Fernando has landed in a spot that should allow him to play through a learning curve without an overwhelming level of competition for playing time at his position.

It is difficult to project Fernando’s role when the Hawks break camp and head to Detroit to open the regular season in October. Alex Len is certain to be the starter, but it would not be a surprise to see veteran Damian Jones playing ahead of the rookie center, at least for the early portion of the regular season. There will be no need to rush a rookie into action while he is still adjusting to the NBA game and learning systems that will be new to him on both ends of the floor.

Hawks fans may yearn to see Fernando in action early in the season, but Lloyd Pierce and his staff are likely to value his development over immediate contributions on the floor. In fact, it would be reasonable to assume his immediate impact to be a net negative until he can develop a rhythm and feel comfortable on the floor with nine other NBA players. If he does get regular playing time early in the season, it would be an indication the coaching staff believes live game action is critical for him at this stage of his development.

In the long run, the rookie center projects as a potential plus defender who can match up with bigs yet still cover space quickly to rotate and provide rim protection. He has the agility to stay with smaller players after a switch if he can develop the fundamental footwork and learn to take angles needed to defend at the NBA level.

Offensively, he should be an adequate rim runner or big working in the dunker spot right way, But, in pick-and-roll action, opposing defenses will certainly sag under the screen daring him to pop from the screen action and take jump shots. Given his hand-off radius, dribble hand-off action may be a better fit for him early on if he is asked to do any on the ball action at all.

Fernando was a willing but inconsistent perimeter shooter at the college level. The most encouraging aspect of his collegiate shooting was his solid performance at the free throw line. All in all, there is nothing to indicate he does not have the potential to develop into a respectable shooter at the NBA level. The Hawks will certainly want his jump shooting to transition to the three-point line to maximize floor spacing.

There is no reason to expect him to shoot with any sort of proficiency, or even volume for that matter, from behind the three-point line early in his rookie season. But watching his progress as a shooter throughout the year should be one of many fascinating narratives for a young Hawks team.

Unless he breaks out unexpectedly during the preseason portion of the schedule, Fernando could begin the season with a limited role, likely forced into action when a player ahead of him is dealing with an injury or gets into foul trouble. As the season progresses, his playing time should mirror the progress of his development. He is sure to have some explosive, highlight-reel moments as a rookie but they are likely to be interspersed among many more minutes of learning moments that are typical to NBA rookie play.