With the NBA combine coming up Thursday and Friday, Maryland center Bruno Fernando will take the floor in Chicago with plenty to prove to scouts.
The Angolan big man is currently projected by most major news outlets as a late first-rounder, though some do have him going in the teens. He’s been regularly pegged behind two other centers, as Texas’ Jaxson Hayes is projected to go in the lottery and Oregon’s Bol Bol isn’t far behind.
Many draft analysts agree that one of the biggest concerns for Fernando is his defense. He has a 7’4 wingspan and averaged 1.9 blocks per game in his sophomore season to earn a spot on the Big Ten’s all-defensive team, but scouts are uncertain how his abilities will translate to the next level.
“He has okay block numbers, but certainly for someone of his stature and his athleticism you would expect those numbers to be higher,” Sporting News NBA Draft reporter Chris Stone told Testudo Times. “And so in some ways that’s reflective of some of the concerns that exist about his defensive IQ, ability to be at the right place and make the right reads and rotations.”
Hayes, for instance, might not have the college numbers of Fernando, as he averaged 10 points and five rebounds per game compared to Fernando’s 13.6 and 10.6. But the Texas big man is two years younger, shot 72.8 percent from the floor and had 2.2 blocks in just 23.3 minutes per game (Fernando played an average of 30 minutes).
At the combine, Fernando will have to bring the heat on defense during scrimmages, especially after recording just one block at last year’s combine. He’ll also need to make a good impression in interviews with teams when talking about different defensive situations. Many teams are also now incorporating virtual reality exercises to see how a player performs on defense in game scenarios, so that’s another area Fernando can prove he has more defensive prowess.
“Teams will want to tease out his thoughts on the defensive end and whether he can improve as someone who can anchor a defense,” Stone said. “For someone of his size and his mobility, it’s going to be incredibly important that he can protect the rim at a high level in the NBA.”
Another big area for Fernando at the combine will be his shooting. Last year, Kevin Huerter immensely improved his draft stock with shooting drills at the combine, and Fernando will look to do the same. He only shot 13 threes in college, so he has a real chance to impress scouts if he can consistently nail shots from behind the arc during drills and hit shots during the scrimmages.
Fernando actually did well in shooting drills last year, ranking first among centers at the corner-left station (4-for-5) and on-the-move shooting (70 percent). He also ranked second at the top-key (4-for-5), break-right (3-for-5) and corner-right (3-for-5) spots. The real issue, though, was that he only had eight points, on 3-for-8 shooting, and four rebounds in the scrimmage, so he’ll need to do much better in game play this year.
There are some drills at the combine Fernando could use to his advantage to show his own athleticism, such as the different running and agility ones, and it will also be interesting to see how he and Hayes compare on the vertical leap. At last year’s combine, Fernando ranked fourth among centers in standing vertical leap (29’0) and third in maximum vertical leap (35’0).
“Simply put, he is an athletic marvel who is in the elite 1 percent of all basketball players on the planet from a physical standpoint,” ESPN draft analyst Jonathan Givony wrote. But Givony also had Fernando as the fifth-best center in the draft (behind Hayes, Bol, Goga Bidatze and Mfiondu Kabengele). Similarly to other analysts, he expressed concerns about Fernando’s defense.
While it is unlikely Fernando could jump to the first center in the draft, he has a chance to lock himself in as mid-first round pick with a strong combine performance. But Stone says to do so, he’ll need to differentiate himself from the pack this week.
“There is such a saturation of big men in the NBA and the ability to go find them for cheap makes taking them highly in the draft not as attractive as a prospect,” Stone said. “There’s a lot of guys who do what he does. And so it makes it difficult, I think, to move up significantly unless you show something special.”