Aside from a handful of players expected to be picked near the top of the first round in the 2019 NBA draft — perhaps only Duke’s Zion Williamson and Murray State’s Ja Morant are locked in with the first two spots — it’s difficult to project where most players will wind up Thursday night.
San Antonio has two first-round picks, Nos. 19 and 29, as well as a need for a strong, athletic big man who can back up third-year center Jakob Poeltl while helping the team’s star power forward, LaMarcus Aldridge, do dirty work inside.
That Maryland coach Mark Turgeon is close with Spurs general manager R.C. Buford, who was an assistant under Larry Brown when Turgeon played at Kansas, can't hurt. The Spurs passed on Huerter last year and probably regret it.
While Fernando’s stock hasn’t skyrocketed as Huerter’s did in the days before the 2018 draft, it’s unlikely he will get out of the first round. Picking him No. 19 — where Huerter went last year — might be too high. Taking him 10 spots later, if he’s still available, is certainly not a stretch.
Golden State Warriors
A lot has changed for the Warriors in the past couple of weeks, especially since the final two games of the NBA Finals with the serious injuries to stars Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.
With so much uncertainty surrounding their health and impending free agency, the Warriors are somewhere between a wait-and-see phase to a partial rebuild going into next season.
The team’s two big men, Andrew Bogut and Kevon Looney, are among the question marks. The Warriors pick No. 28 in the opening round.
Bogut is going back to Australia and could wind up returning in time for the NBA playoffs, as he did this year. Looney is an unrestricted free agent who showed his value and grit during the playoffs, which could bump up his stock significantly.
Fernando was among the quickest big men at last month's combine — his 3/4-court sprint was the fastest measured among centers — and his ability to both run the floor and finish above the rim is something that seems to fit in with the way the Warriors play.
The Wizards did well years back when they were in rebuilding mode and took Maryland stars Juan Dixon and Steve Blake in back-to-back drafts in 2002 and 2003. Both were part of the franchise’s return to the playoffs in 2004-05.
While Fernando hasn’t attained the same level of success in his first two seasons at Maryland as the backcourt duo who led the Terps to their first Final Four in 2001 and only national title a year later, he is still a popular player locally.
Given the roster problems the Wizards have as well the fact that whoever replaces general manager Ernie Grunfeld could trade All-Star guard Bradley Beal and start over, Fernando will have plenty of time to develop.
The biggest issue is where the Wizards draft. Picking Fernando at No. 9 seems awfully high, but if the Wizards can get more draft picks by trading down, there are reportedly enough fans in the front office to take him later.
If there was a team that underachieved in the playoffs, it was the Bucks. After winning an NBA-best 60 games during the regular season and going up 2-0 on the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals, the Bucks collapsed.
While few pointed fingers at All-Star and Most Valuable Player candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks certainly could have used another big body to help wear the Raptors down.
Brook Lopez proved his worth with his ability to hit 3-pointers, but neither he nor backup power forward Nikola Mirotic were able to do much on the boards during the playoffs. Lopez is headed toward free agency this summer, so there will be a need for another big.
The Bucks have done well through the draft and in trades to acquire players who’ve overachieved beyond “The Greek Freak,” taken by Milwaukee with the No. 15 pick in 2013. Khris Middleton, who played for Turgeon at Texas A&M, came to Milwaukee in a 2013 trade after being chosen No. 39 by the Detroit Pistons a year earlier. Malcolm Brogdon was the No. 36 pick by the Bucks in 2016.
With the last pick in the first round, the Bucks will have a long wait to see who might have slipped through the cracks and is still available. But Fernando could give Milwaukee a power forward who can bang inside or could be a nice complement at center to the otherworldly Antetokounmpo.
Again, it could come down to numbers. The Sixers have the No. 24 pick in the first round, but they also hold two of the top four picks in the second round, Nos. 33 and 34. Though mentioned mostly as a first-rounder, some mock drafts have Fernando going in the second round.
There is certainly a need for a backup to All-Star center Joel Embiid, especially with the 25-year-old’s history with injuries. (He played only 64 regular-season games this past season, a career high, and also missed a game in the first round against the Brooklyn Nets.)
First-year general manager Elton Brand might see some of the same qualities in Fernando that the former Duke star showed during his college and pro career. Though certainly more skilled at the same age — he was the No. 1 pick after his sophomore year with the Blue Devils — Brand played with the same kind of energy and emotion as Fernando.
"Tough, hard-nosed. You know, respectful, wants to get better," Brand said. "Treat your teammates with respect. Younger players, we'd like a high IQ, guy who know how to play, play defense, make the right pass, take the shot when warranted, and a competitor. We want tough competitors that can think the game."