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Why Maryland basketball’s Bruno Fernando has the potential to be a force in the NBA

The Terps center is projected as a late first-rounder, but he’s got the tools to make an immediate impact.

Lila Bromberg / Testudo Times

Maryland basketball’s Bruno Fernando declared for the 2019 NBA Draft last week, but with two months remaining until draft night, he still seems to be flying under the radar. While some mock drafts have him projected as a lottery pick in the 10-14 range, many top news outlets, such as ESPN and CBS, have him as a very late first-round pick if at all.

But disregarding the Angolan big man is a huge mistake. In his sophomore season, Fernando showed improvements all across the board, and was one of the most consistent centers in the country. His 22 double-doubles on the season were tied for second most in the nation, and he was a First Team All-Big Ten selection.

Let’s take a look at why Fernando has the potential to contribute right away in the NBA.

He made huge strides in one year.

Fernando improved a ton between his freshman and sophomore seasons, and he now has an NBA-ready skill set. Not only did his statistics improve across the board, but several parts of his game changed drastically for the better.

In his second year at Maryland, other teams started to realize the danger of Fernando in the paint and started to double team him whenever he touched the ball. While he struggled with this at times, Fernando found ways to work around having an extra man on him toward the end of season. In the pros, it’s unlikely he’ll face many double teams, which will make it easier for him to generate buckets early and often.

Fernando has a reputation as an explosive rim-rocker, but he isn’t just a dunk and layup guy. He diversified his shots this season, adding fadeaway jumpers, spin moves and hook shots into the mix.

The Maryland marvel also improved his passing ability in his sophomore season. Fernando went from averaging 0.7 assists per game his freshman year to 2.0 per game the following season. Those numbers also don’t account for number of intelligent passes he made that didn’t turn directly into baskets but were crucial to keeping offensive possession.

Additionally, Fernando is likely to be underestimated for his defensive ability. He averaged 1.9 blocks per game last season, going from 37 blocks as a freshman to 64 as a sophomore. But more importantly, Maryland played better defense and allowed fewer points with Fernando on the floor. Plus, his blocks were the type of blocks that truly stunned opponents, often leaping into the air to deny opponents from behind.

These vast improvements from his freshman season to now show he’s a quick and dedicated learner, and with the level of coaches in the NBA, Fernando can only get better. And again, without a double-team Fernando is very dangerous.

His stats stack up.

Fernando’s stats from this year are pretty similar to what some of the best big men in the NBA had in college.

In his sophomore season, during which he played 30 minutes per game, Fernando averaged 13.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. NBA All-Star Joel Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in his one year at Kansas, playing 23 minutes per game. Another All-Star, Anthony Davis, averaged 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 blocks in 32 minutes per game at Kentucky.

One of the big concerns for Fernando has been his shooting behind the arc, especially since centers are increasingly expected to nail down three-pointers. But his stats are a lot better than many realize and he actually has a lot of raw shooting talent. Fernando had a .308 career percentage on three-pointers at Maryland, and while that’s in an incredibly small sample size, it compares favorably with several current star bigs in college.

Karl-Anthony Towns, who led all qualifying centers with a 40 percent three-point clip during the 2018-19 NBA regular season, only shot 2-for-8 from behind the arc in college. Davis went 3-for-20 in his lone college season, and Embiid was 1-for-5 before turning the three into a weapon when he reached the pros. Fernando, who has shown in practice that the long ball is in his arsenal, certainly has a chance to follow this trend.

In a college offense, big men like Fernando are most frequently used as the main force in the paint, and with his efficiency inside, it rarely made sense for him to jack threes. Fernando posted a .607 field goal percentage in his sophomore season, good for 18th-best in the country — just 8 percent behind the top shooter in college basketball, Brandon Clarke. Additionally, his career field goal percentage of .595 is second-highest in Maryland program history.

He’s got the right build.

Fernando’s size will also be a huge asset in the NBA. He listed as 6’10 and 240 pounds, but looks closer to 250 at this point. Other big men in the draft — such as Bol Bol and Jaxson Hayes— are a lot skinnier, and Fernando knows how to use his size to his advantage bully in the paint, often posterizing defenders or drawing the and-one. The Big Ten is known for its physicality in the paint, so the Angolan’s body is already prepped for heavy contact in the NBA, and he knows how to work around it.

At the 2018 NBA Combine, Fernando measured a 7-foot, 4.25-inch wingspan, which measures up well with the best blockers in the NBA. Myles Turner and Mitchell Robinson, who ranked first and second in blocks per game in the 2018-19 regular season, both have a 7’4 wingspan.

Fernando’s other measurables include a 29-inch standing vertical leap and a 35-inch maximum vertical leap. He also had a 9.5-inch hand length and 10 inch hand width, just 5.25 percent body fat and the fastest shuttle run among centers at 3.03 seconds. With this size and testing numbers, which could improve at the combine this year, Fernando is a special athlete with the ability to make waves in the NBA.

His personality can win teams over.

At Maryland, Fernando quickly gained a large following of fans for the passion and energy he brings every time he steps on the court. From chest-bumping to fire up the Xfinity Center crowd to emphatic battle cries after dunks to physically lifting up his teammates in celebration, it’s hard not to love Fernando’s presence on the floor.

Fernando developed as a leader as a sophomore, often stepping in to guide his teammates with a quiet point guard in Anthony Cowan Jr. Whenever he saw a teammate upset after a play, Fernando would often go to console them, wrapping his long arms around their shoulders and whispering wisdom in their ears. He also played a huge role in the development of freshman Jalen Smith, not only setting an example with his hard work but also by pulling him aside in games to point certain things out he could do better, while at the same time raising his confidence by hyping him up after big plays.

Throughout his career at Maryland, Fernando has developed a motto to live by: choices we make. You’ll often see #CWM on his social media posts; he uses it as a reminder to always work hard. As an NBA rookie, he’ll need to do just that. But he’s got the talent and the drive to become an impact pro in short order.