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Player Review: Dewan Hernandez’ redshirt rookie year

Bad luck has followed Dewan Hernandez through his rookie season in Toronto. As a result, we haven’t quite seen what he can bring to the table.

Long Island Nets v Mississauga Raptors 905 Photo by Christian Bonin/NBAE via Getty Images

When the Toronto Raptors picked Dewan Hernandez as the second to last pick of the 2019 NBA Draft, there were no expectations for him to be part of the team’s main rotation. He was supposed to go through a developmental year and spend most of his time with the Raptors 905 in the G League.

Hernandez’s highlights gave the fanbase some hope that the Raptors may have struck gold again after some polishing work was done. Watching him perform with the 905 and in whatever minutes he got from the main club confirmed the initial scouting report on Dewan. He remains an intriguing talent with a budding variety of offensive skills and versatility.

Still, Hernandez is a project — and due to injury didn’t get to play as much as the Raptors or the 905 would have liked. Here’s a review of his 2019-20 season.

With the Main Club

Before the season shutdown, Hernandez appeared in just four games for the Raptors before seriously injuring his ankle and sitting for most of Toronto’s games — until the final two of the Bubble restart.

While Hernandez got healthy during the shutdown, the lack of basketball training during the downtime was apparent in the two games Hernandez played in the Bubble. Everybody else played at a much higher game speed than him. His timing was off, he was getting pushed around, and just sort of looked out of place. It took Hernandez some time to look comfortable. He did eventually show nimble feet keeping up with a smaller ball-handler, and executed a near-perfect Spain pick-and-roll backscreen for that Stanley Johnson to Paul Watson Jr. legendary alley-oop against the Denver Nuggets.

While those two final Bubble games were meaningless in the standings, the Raptors deep-benchers — including Dewan — competed hard and pulled out two fun wins. Hernandez had his part to play in both games, but yes, he spent most of his time with the Raptors playing inconsequential minutes. We’ll see what next season has in store for the Raptors and Dewan.

With the 905

Hernandez played the majority of his rookie year with the 905, where he averaged 13.7 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, and 2.3 turnovers per game. He was the starting centre of the undersized squad for the nine games he played until an ankle injury sidelined him for the rest of the season.

It wasn’t much, but Hernandez’s games in the G League gave us a snapshot of his game. As a player, we got to see who he is, what he isn’t (yet), and what he could be. He started the season looking like he has the upside to dominate at the G League level, as filling up the boxscore looked easy for him, despite looking out of place at times. Hernandez showed plenty of flashes and decent production while just using his instincts — so imagine what he can be once he figures things out.

Offensively, Hernandez showed some polish working off the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop. His perimeter shot looks fluid, whether as the “pop man” or just spotting up. The stats do not back it up, as he only shot 16 percent behind the arc, but it looks like he projects to be a decent perimeter shooter. At least that’s what the Raptors are surely hoping.

As a roll-man, Hernandez is good at finding the right angle, catching the ball, and moving into his shot in one fluid motion. He has a nice touch around the basket, and it extends to the short-midrange area. He’s capable of shooting floaters off either leg. What’s more, Dewan has decent footwork for a big, as he’s able to spin to either side, Euro step, and finish with either hand. Sometimes he tries too much finesse on his the shot, though, and it would help if he tried to just finish strong.

Defensively is where Hernandez struggled the most with the Raptors 905. He looked lost at times, just a step late processing plays unfolding in front of him. Hernandez looked uncomfortable on his drop coverage and was easily taken advantage of by the guards in this situation. Unlike Chris Boucher, for example, Hernandez doesn’t have the same quick reactions and leaping ability to contest or block shots on the recovery. Hernandez did not offer adequate rim protection and was often out of position defensively, despite averaging almost two blocks per game.

Hernandez’s G League stint wasn’t a failure, but there were plenty of growing pains for him. The G League competition showed how far away he is from being a capable NBA defender at the pivot. There were games where coach Jama Mahlalela gave him a quick hook or kept him off the floor in crunch time. There was even a time his teammate Justin Anderson got into his face in the middle of the game, demanding more from him.

Overall, Hernandez struggled to be effective elsewhere when his offense was non-existent, or in situations where his number wasn’t called for an extended period of time. It’s a fixable problem, but we’ll have to see if Dewan can get there.

Areas of Development

There’s no doubt that Hernandez’s injury and the pandemic set his development back. A silver lining for him is that the same pandemic allowed him to recover from his injury, which lead to a second training camp before he and the Raptors entered the Bubble.

Hernandez has an NBA-ready body, but he still needs to get stronger (particularly if he’s going to play centre), as he was easily pushed around by bigger and stronger bigs — even at the G League level. Fortunately, Hernandez has shown flashes of a solid pick-and-pop game. He has also shown good instincts for cutting to the basket, finishing as a roll-man, or moving around to the dunker’s spot area for a drop-off. He needs to work on finishing quicker and stronger though, which is tough to do at the NBA level. Hernandez is pretty mobile and can put the ball down better than most traditional big men. His drives to the basket do not look robotic — like, say, Serge Ibaka’s — which is a cause for optimism.

Overall, Hernandez will need to get back to the gym for the majority of the off-season. He should be working on polishing his skill-set with individual workouts and playing as much as possible to get those reps in actual games. Playing games against decent competition should allow him to get his timing back and get an overall feel on how much work he needs to do.

Looking Forward

Much like the young players outside of the Raptors’ rotation, Hernandez has a big off-season ahead of him. Fortunately for him, his injury issues are past, so he should be focused on being a better basketball player than he was before the draft. The Raptors have a decision to make at the end of the season next month, as his contract is not guaranteed.

As Daniel Hackett mentioned in his Raptors Salary Cap primer, the Raptors’ starting, backup, and third big are all free agents this off-season, which means Dewan is their only big man left. Still, the Raptors will probably bring at least one of Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka back or sign another centre before pencilling Hernandez into the rotation. At this point, it’s clear Dewan is not ready for that role.

One thing we should keep an eye on is Hernandez’s natural position. He’s got skills that can be seen on mobile and modern power forwards. He’s small as a centre, and the majority of the traditional big men around his height possess explosive athleticism (Dwight Howard), insane length (Jarrett Allen), brute force (DeAndre Jordan), or basketball IQ (Al Horford). Hernandez’s length is slightly above average, but he’s not necessarily an above-the-rim finisher; and obviously, it’s too early to tell where his IQ will end up. That said, right now he looks more like a power forward in the mould of JaMychal Green and Earl Clark Jr.

Whether the Raptors think Hernandez is ready to move one seat up remains to be seen. Can he become a mobile rim-runner and show off his pick-and-pop skills while not be a defensive liability? Maybe Dewan has made strides since he came back from his injury, but he may be gearing up for another season stuck at the very end of the bench for Toronto.