Maryland center Bruno Fernando was not the only player to stew in the stands at Barclays Center during Thursday’s NBA draft. Even a few in the “green room” did as they waited to hear their names called.
Fernando was also not the only player, especially the only big man, expected to go early in more than a few mock drafts to fall out of the first round. Others, including Daniel Gafford of Arkansas and Bol Bol of Oregon, did as well.
Naz Reid, whom Fernando and the Terps faced in the second of round of the NCAA tournament in Jacksonville, Fla. — where Fernando might have won the one-on-one battle but Reid’s Tigers won the war — didn’t even get drafted.
Losing out on first-round money is certainly difficult for any NBA prospect to digest, but getting picked No. 34 overall and going in a proposed trade from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Atlanta Hawks could be good for Fernando.
“There’s only 60 guys that get their names called every year. … Through the trade, Atlanta really wanted him,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said late Thursday night.
Here are five things to consider.
1. Most NBA rookies go to a team knowing none of his teammates, but not Fernando.
Fernando will join the Hawks having played his freshman year with Kevin Huerter, Atlanta’s first-round pick a year ago, and having met former Terp Alex Len, who just finished his first season in Atlanta.
“I especially look at it, as much as we know each other on the court, it will be great off the court, as much as you travel,” Huerter said Friday. “With the crazy schedule that we all have, someone you’re familiar with off the court will be really nice, too.”
Said Turgeon: “I think he’s in a good spot. He’s going to be back with Kevin and Alex, guys that can look after him and kind of show him the ropes.”
2. There’s a reason why the Hawks gave up three second-round draft picks to acquire the 6-foot-10, 240-pound Angolan.
Atlanta has only two centers under contract for one more season — Len and former Duke star Miles Plumlee. Also, six-year veteran Dewayne Dedmon, who started 52 of the 64 games in which he played last season, is an unrestricted free agent.
Dedmon, who will turn 30 in August and made $7.2 million last season, will likely get a bigger, longer contract from another team.
Unlike Len, who was not healthy after coming out as the No. 5 pick in 2013, Fernando stayed injury-free as a sophomore after having a tough time early in his freshman year.
“He has an NBA-ready body, which a lot of big guys don’t,” Huerter said. “Based on his workouts, his physicality and how hard he plays, he’s somebody who can come in and possibly compete for minutes right away.”
Huerter said Fernando fills a need for a Hawks team that finished dead last in the NBA in points allowed. He also said Fernando is capable of showing the kind of perimeter shooting that wasn’t often on display at Maryland.
“I think he’ll fit in great — we need a [center],” Huerter said. “I know Dewayne Dedmon is a free agent. Whether we bring him back or not, he’s going to come in and continue to show he can make shots from the outside, all of centers shot 3s last year and I definitely think Bruno can show he can.”
Fernando is looking to do the dirty work.
“Just a guy that’s going to come here and rebound and try to do whatever I can to help my team win,” he said after the draft, according to ASAP Sports.
Asked to describe his style of play, Fernando said, “Just a guy that is going to come and play hard, bring a lot of energy and patience on the floor every second I'm out there. A guy who is rooting for my teammates, always trying to make sure my teammates are doing OK and making sure everybody on the team is doing what they're supposed to do.”
3. Even though Fernando won’t earn nearly as much as Huerter made as a rookie ($2.25 million), a second-round pick who is expected be in the rotation will quickly realize he is no longer in college when he cashes his first paycheck.
The player taken No. 34 last year, former Kansas guard Devonte Graham, earned close to $1 million as a rookie for the Charlotte Hornets. Like Fernando, Graham was traded on draft night — by the Hawks.
“A lot of times when you’re drafted 25 to 30 — except if you’re looking at it strictly from a money standpoint — getting drafted 30 to 40 is better with the flexibility for your second deal. He’s getting that,” Huerter said.
Depending on the deal struck between the Hawks and Fernando’s agent, Mark Bartelstein — who also represents Huerter and former Terp and current Portland Trail Blazer Jake Layman, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer — Fernando is not necessarily tied into a three-year deal with an option for a fourth, as first-rounders are.
Fernando doesn’t appear too concerned.
“Like I said, I think basketball-wise a lot of things are going to take care of itself,” Fernando said in Brooklyn on Thursday. “I think I work hard enough to make sure that everything else, which includes my skills in basketball, are going to be fine.”
4. Given his game, Fernando’s stock probably wouldn’t have been much higher had he returned for his junior year.
Though he will only turn 21 in August, Fernando is considered ancient by NBA rookie standards these days. That he is perceived as a center who plays mostly in the low post makes him almost an NBA dinosaur, too.
While Turgeon would have given Fernando a little more latitude when it came to taking perimeter shots, one of his biggest strengths for the Terps was drawing two or three defenders to open things up for the guards and wings to shoot 3s.
Sophomore Jalen Smith (Mount Saint Joseph), who should become Maryland’s go-to scorer based on what he did in last year’s NCAA tournament, still has to show NBA scouts he can become the stretch-4 he is expected to be.
That’s not to say Fernando’s stock wouldn’t have shot up in the event that he led the Terps on a long run in March, as happened to Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver and Virginia’s Ty Jerome.
But that’s counting on everything going perfectly for a prospect in the postseason, which typically doesn't happen.
5. Fernando will be the first Angolan ever to play in the NBA.
Ever since he gave up soccer at age 14 to concentrate on basketball, Fernando has dreamed of playing in the NBA.
Turgeon, who joined Fernando in Brooklyn, saw the emotions of that dream come pouring out of his former player when Fernando’s name was announced. Even though his agent had told him the pick — and the trade — were coming, it looked like it was a surprise.
Fernando broke down and cried.
“It really hit him. He started to think about how far he’s come, where he came from,” Turgeon said. “Being the first Angolan [to be drafted by an NBA team], that was pretty special. It was a pretty special moment.”