Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon will have a fitful week or so waiting for sophomore guard Kevin Huerter and freshman center Bruno Fernando to decide whether to remain in next month’s NBA draft or return to College Park next season.
The pair, who performed well at last week’s NBA scouting combine in Chicago, have until May 30 to make up their minds. Here are some of the pros and cons for Huerter and Fernando to weigh as they continue their private workouts with NBA teams this week.
The spacing most NBA teams teams use in their offenses compared with most college teams is more suitable to Huerter’s game. His ability to shoot from deep — we’re talking Steph Curry/Klay Thompson range — should give the 6-foot-7 Huerter an immediate role on many teams.
Huerter said in an interview with the Big Ten Network in Chicago that the one-word attribute he would bring to an NBA team is “intelligence”. Huerter’s basketball IQ is off the charts, and his passing ability would be better utilized by teammates who process the game as well as he does.
If given enough playing time, Huerter’s game will mature at a faster rate playing on the NBA level. Also, the opportunity to match up against better players in practice on a regular basis could push Huerter to another level faster than if he remains in college.
Though Huerter came into Chicago without much fanfare, mostly because of the way the Terps were off the radar last season, he left with a lot of buzz. There seems to be a short shelf life when it comes to staying excited about a prospect. Just ask Huerter’s former teammates, Justin Jackson and Melo Trimble.
As hard as Huerter has worked along with his teammates this spring to get stronger — and the pictures on social media of Huerter and other Terps showing off their new-found muscles is proof of Kyle Tarp’s weight room workouts — he will still have to adjust to playing older, more physical players on a nightly basis.
Unlike many in his position, the 19-year-old actually enjoys college. He has done well academically and he has embraced being a regular student, including sitting in the student section at Maryland Stadium for football games. As the old saying goes, he’s not going to ever get that back.
Huerter has never been “The Man” at Maryland, having played a subordinate role as a freshman when Trimble was a junior and then sharing it last season with fellow sophomore Anthony Cowan Jr. If he returns to College Park, there is no doubt who should be in that role next season.
If Huerter declares, he should have a handful of teams interested in him late in the first round or early in the second round. That’s often a crap shoot, but if Huerter continues to expand his game, as he did last season, he will almost be assured of lottery-pick status next year.
The way Turgeon’s offense is structured, there are not a lot of outside shots for big men. To play as a center in the NBA these days, you must be able to make 3-pointers. The 6-foot-10 Angolan attempted just three of them last year, but that’s probably going to increase dramatically.
Fernando showed as a freshman that he played better when opponents were more physical, especially during the second half of the season. Unlike Huerter, Fernando’s opportunity to play against bigger, stronger players in the NBA could work in his favor.
There’s not a lot of clarity about Fernando’s personal situation and how much his family — he’s one of eight siblings — back in Africa needs his financial support. If he gets a first-round rookie’s salary, even at the back end of the first-round, he’s guaranteed in excess of $1.3 million a year.
Unlike a player such as Huerter, spending time in the G-League might not be that bad a situation for Fernando’s development. The wide-open games most teams play would give Fernando a chance to adapt his skills to the NBA on a much smaller stage.
As well as Fernando tested at the combine, he really showed in the scrimmage that he isn’t ready for the pace of the NBA game. It was a microcosm of the struggles he had early at Maryland, evidenced by the three quick fouls he picked up in Friday’s scrimmage.
This year’s first round is chock full of big men, to the point in which Fernando could easily slip well into the second round, depending on which teams are drafting. Two years ago, Diamond Stone came to Maryland as a potential lottery pick and wound up picked 40th on draft night.
Fernando is still learning the game, and his feel for the game fluctuates. The ability to get a more hands-on approach in terms of watching film and working in the gym without the pressure of living up to the expectations, especially as a first-round pick, would be an enormous boost to his future.
It’s no longer the first contract that is the most important one in an NBA player’s career; it’s the second one. Fernando has to look only as far as former Terp Alex Len, who despite being picked No. 5 overall probably could have used another year in College Park to maximize his financial future in the NBA.