CHICAGO — It was a play that had little bearing on the game, let alone the scoreboard, and would never make a highlight tape. But since it happened at the NBA Combine, with coaches and executives and scouts lining the court, it mattered to at least one pair of discerning eyes.
Bruno Fernando caught the ball behind the three-point line, took two dribbles before faking a hand off to a guard, then zipped a pass to a teammate, just beyond the reach of a defender. He finished the play by setting a ball screen.
“That’s the kind of simple stuff he has to do with consistency,” said a Western Conference scout while watching Fernando, a 6-foot-10 forward who just finished his freshman season at Maryland, play in a five-on-five scrimmage at the combine Thursday. “He certainly looks the part, but one red flag were his turnovers in college and his decision-making with the ball, because in the NBA big men are asked to do a lot of different things.”
Fernando is one of three Maryland players participating in the combine this week — along with guard Kevin Huerter and forward Justin Jackson — and he and Huerter have yet to sign agents. That means they have until May 30 to decide whether they will return to Maryland or forego the rest of their college eligibility and enter the draft. A few people with knowledge of Fernando’s situation believe he is closer to declaring for the draft than he is to returning for a sophomore season in College Park. His highest mock-draft projections are as a late first-round pick; some predict he won’t be selected at all.
A bulk of his decision could hinge on how he is evaluated here, since Fernando will not be able to work out for too many teams ahead of the May 30 deadline. He interviewed with the Thunder, Nuggets, Wizards, Bucks, Pelicans and Hornets the past two days, and has meetings with the Lakers and Pistons scheduled for Friday morning. He also worked out for the Hawks and Nets ahead of the combine.
The combine itself favors Fernando in some ways while challenging him in others. The Angolan forward stands out with his physical measurements, with a 7-foot, 4.25-inch wingspan (the eighth biggest of the roughly 65 players measured) and 5.25 percent body fat on his large frame. But five-on-five play could expose less desirable parts of his draft profile, like his 53 turnovers in 30 games as a freshman at Maryland or spotty play against other high-level big men. Fernando hedged that with a simple approach to Thursday’s scrimmage.
“I really wasn’t trying to show much,” Fernando said after he finished playing. “A lot of teams have been watching me all year and know what I am able to do and what I am not able to do.”
The role of the NBA big man continues to evolve, and Fernando feels he is equipped to fit the modern role of forwards of centers. His size and athleticism suggest he could be a viable rim protector and rebounder at the next level, but his offensive game needs polish. His distributing, from both the post and perimeter, is something he continues to work on and seemed confident with during the scrimmage. He finished the scrimmage with eight points, four rebounds, a block and a turnover in just under 19 minutes.
Two scouts said Thursday that they are impressed with his shooting stroke but would like to see him take more outside shots in individual workouts (he attempted a total of three three-pointers as a freshman, making one). He averaged 10.5 points and 6.5 rebounds as a freshman.
“My shot is something that I’ve been working on all the time,” Fernando said. “I feel like I have a pretty good shot, I am very comfortable with my shot. I work a lot on it. The way the game is today big men got to be able to shoot the ball. It’s not that you’re going to have to shoot, but you have to be able to make that shot. I think I can make that 15, 17 footer and even can expand my game to the three-point line, NBA range.”
He expects to work out with a few more teams after the combine wraps up, and will have a little less than two weeks to decide whether he will return to Maryland. Fernando plans to discuss his future with his family, which includes his guardian Fenny Falmagne, and weigh the feedback given to him as part of the process in Chicago.
That includes conversations with individual teams and also an evaluation from the NBA. On Friday, players “testing” the draft process are expected to meet with representatives from the NBA Players’ Association to hear how they are being viewed coming out of the combine. Then Fernando’s fate will become just a bit clearer as he contemplates his future.
“Being able to run up and down the floor, a lot of guys my height and my size aren’t able to do that,” Fernando said of what teams have told him they like about his game. “Having the ability that I have to play defense, multiple positions on the court, stuff like that I can definitely use as I make that transition to the next level.”