Such is the mystique of the Raptors’ player development system, we’re already all-in on the eventual explosion of Dewan-mania here in Toronto — and presumably across the globe. Still, some perspective please!
The Raptors selected Dewan Hernandez, the 22-year-old forward/centre out of Miami, listed at 6’10” and 235 pounds, with the 59th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. For those keeping track at home, that’s the second last pick possible in the draft. Now, it is indeed admirable to make the NBA, however it happens; and the Raptors are no strangers to claiming even undrafted players and turning them into servicable members of the rotation. But it remains extremely rare for a 59th pick to turn into a noteworthy NBA player. (For a feel of what I mean here, check out ESPN’s Best Picks From Every Draft Slot; the man at no. 59? 1978’s Pat Cummings, e.g. who? My point exactly.) Not to get off on a sour note here, that’s just reality.
So then, what of Dewan Hernandez? After two seasons of collegiate ball in which he topped out at 11.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game in his sophomore year, the NCAA suspended Hernandez in his junior year for what they deemed illegal dealings with an agent (Christian Dawkins, who was found guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud). Even a cursory reading of this story suggests Hernandez was screwed. One more aside here: the NCAA is bad.
Anyway, Dewan sat the year, turned pro, and then waited for his shot at the NBA. Now here we are in October with Hernandez on the end of the Raptors bench and the 2019-20 NBA season about to start. Exciting times!
Role on the Team
While it’s true the Raptors are perhaps a bit thin up front, the reality is that Hernandez does not seem likely to factor much into Toronto’s immediate plans. The team is going to start Marc Gasol as much as it can, they’ll have Serge Ibaka as the backup centre and/or complementary power forward, and then there are a bevy of smaller options (Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson among them) to swap in and out of lineups ahead of Hernandez.
As coach Nick Nurse has already implied, the earliest we would see a steady diet of Dewan minutes would be in January or February, with maybe a few call-up appearances before then. At that point, the Raptors will know what kind of team they are, whether they’re buyers or sellers at the trade deadline, whether they’re built to actually make a strong push in the playoffs, and whether they need help from someone like Hernandez to get them there.
In that we find Hernandez’ likely role for the 2019-20 season: he’ll be on hand in case of any injuries to Gasol or Ibaka, and placed on the active roster if/when those players get rest days during the season. For example, we know Gasol is to have his load managed this year, which may mean a little face time later on for Hernandez in Toronto. What he’ll do on the court with those minutes — beyond just running the floor, defending as best as he knows how, and grabbing every board he can — will be a surprise to all. As per usual, however, I wouldn’t count Toronto’s development system out.
Back when the Raptors drafted Hernandez, our own Jacob Mack wrote this of the incoming big man:
In his breakout year at Miami Hernandez was an effective post-scorer, roll man and shot-blocker, and was at his best running the floor, though he didn’t exactly flash much playmaking. He had an excellent Draft Combine this year, grading out as the 3rd most athletic big overall, per NBA Athlete’s composite rankings. He also showcased a re-vamped jumper in workouts.
Since then we’ve been provided with a few opportunities to see Hernandez showcase these skills against NBA talent. First, he went to the 2019 NBA Summer League with the Raptors; second, he appeared in the team’s four preseason games. In all, Hernandez showed he was definitely able to run the floor and play with a dose of agility that belies his size. (This highlight here still makes me feel things.) And in that, we can see what intrigues the Raptors about their young prospect.
The main thing Hernandez will need to improve though is — much like Boucher before him — finding ways to be a factor on offense and defense despite being essentially undersized. So far Dewan has had a tough time being a post-scorer (despite his ability in college), and his capacity to challenge players at the rim and on the boards has not quite shone through yet. As has been pointed out though, the Raptors and Hernandez have to discover how best to balance the size vs. quickness paradigm that he presents as a player. There is still much work to be done to figure this out, is my point.
This one’s easy: Hernandez will be expected to head to the 905 in Mississauga and show he can learn, grow, and play with whatever talent he has as a big man rebounder, rim-runner, and defender. The Raptors don’t need a huge leap right away from Hernandez, and they shouldn’t necessarily expect one from a 59th pick. (An ultimate ceiling of Pat Cummings would actually be an awesome outcome.)
But both team and player are going to give it a try, as well they should.