Dewan is shining | Boucher thumping summer league | VanVleet reps for his people
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 13, 2019
This was new for Hernandez, and at least a little unexpected. All week long, he flashed more pure skill than was perhaps anticipated, the byproduct of a year spent out of sight and, during that year, a lot of development. This is part of what the Raptors saw in a mid-May pre-draft workout, one of 18 Hernandez participated in around the G League Elite Camp and the NBA Scouting Combine. To the eyes of the Toronto front office, Hernandez had grown enough that if he’d played during his junior year at Miami, the Raptors wouldn’t have had the opportunity to draft him with their lone pick. Internally, he ranked in the low 30s on the Toronto board, and when he was still available at No. 59, the Raptors jumped.
The pick was not without uncertainty. Hernandez wasn’t perfect in the workout, with some of his tools grading better by aesthetics than by results. (The Raptors also had interest in Terence Davis, Hernandez’s roommate at the G League camp, who wound up with them as an undrafted free agent.) Hernandez did not possess elite rebounding or shot-blocking for a modern centre despite standing 6-foot-11 and measuring as one of the best athletes at the position at the combine. Whether he winds up more of a power forward in the long term is a legitimate question.
Mostly, though, the Raptors just hadn’t seen him in real action in 16 months. Nobody had.
“We’ll see. You know, he’s been off the court for a full year, and I think any time a player steps away from five-on-five, there’s definitely an adjustment to get back, get the rust off and get used to the speed of the game,” assistant general manager Dan Tolzman said. “Going from college a year ago to pro basketball and a lot of NBA-level players, it’s gonna be a pretty steep adjustment for him early. But I think once he gets his wind, he’s a guy that plays with a lot of energy, he has a nice toughness about him, he really attacks the boards hard, and he can step out and hit shots, too. For a player his size, he’s got a lot of mobility and he’s a very opportune, impact sort of guy. He never really stops on either side of the floor and just quietly does his job. It should be fun to see what he can do.”
As Shams’ report makes clear, the Raptors are bringing Hernandez onto the full-time roster. That’s not to say he won’t spend time in the G League (playing behind Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol means there won’t be a ton of minutes for him), but Toronto is already eschewing the two-way contract route with him. For now, Hernandez is a full-time Raptor.
Throughout the squad’s run in Vegas, Hernandez proved to be an up-and-down player, both in terms of his mobility and his comfort level. He’s still got a ways to go before coming a full-time NBA player, but at pick no. 59 Toronto can’t ask for more value than what they’ve seen already from Hernandez. Through five games he showed an ability to drive to the hoop, finish in traffic, and rim-run while averaging 12.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 1.5 assists (while shooting 40 percent from the floor, which will need some work). Paired with Chris Boucher, the two big men were able to anchor the Raptors’ defense for stretches too. Again, Dewan has a long journey ahead of him — as a power forward or centre in the NBA — but the raw material is there.
“That’s kind of the approach we take to it,” Raptors assistant general manager Dan Tolzman said earlier this week. “He was a guy that was starting to get some buzz his sophomore year and he comes from a really strong pedigree as a prep player before Miami, and you could kind of see as he was getting comfortable and putting on some weight and just developing, there was a fairly good chance that he would have played himself out of the range of 59.
“Who knows how the season would have gone for him but the little bit we saw of him this past year and all the scouting we had done on him earlier, we felt really comfortable with where he’s at and where he could get in our program.”
Hernandez averaged 10.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists in three games in Vegas before Thursday’s contest, but had shot just 32% from the field. On Thursday he went a solid 7-for-11 in his latest strong effort, scoring 18 points and adding eight rebounds in a win over Denver. He missed all three three-point attempts, but hit all of his free throws.
Hernandez has looked better in each contest after showing the rust of so much time out in the opener. Hernandez notched 16 points, 11 rebounds and a block against New York on Tuesday in his breakout outing, before faring even better on Thursday.
Hernandez went through 18 pre-draft workouts, a high number, and felt like his session with the Raptors was one of the better efforts. Apparently the team agreed.
“It was very exciting. The champs, the only pick they had, and they chose me, that’s unbelievable,” Hernandez said. “They didn’t have a pick last year, I don’t think they had a pick before that, for them to choose me, it feels surreal.”
“I’m glad I’m not playing in the NCAA any more.”
That’s because his junior season turned out to be a nightmare, with Hernandez informed shortly before the opener that he would be held out of games while the NCAA evaluated a potential rules violation, and then learning he would be suspended for the season, despite assertions by UM and his attorney that his violation did not warrant punishment nearly that severe.
But Hernandez’s odyssey has taken an encouraging turn. Toronto selected him 59th overall, with the next-to-last pick, in the June 20 NBA Draft, and he has played well for the Raptors’ summer league team, averaging 12.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and just under 24 minutes per game.
Toronto on Saturday rewarded him with a three-year, partially-guaranteed contract.
What has happened over the past nine months “has been really strange, but [getting to this point with an NBA team] is what I worked for,” Hernandez said this week in a corridor of Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus. “This last year has been tough. But I knew I had an opportunity to showcase my skills in predraft workouts and the Combine and I took advantage of that.”
This year’s fest had a bit of a surprise from the Auburn grad, as VanVleet entered the gym at the UW Health Sports Factory with the Larry O’Brien Trophy in hand.
The place went bonkers as fans flocked toward VanVleet trying to get a picture with the trophy.
After a quick word from Rockford’s only NBA Champion, it was onto the 3-point and Slam Dunk Contest.
Pecatonica sophomore Hunter Hoffmann edged out East head coach Roy Sackmaster in overtime to win the 3-point contest.
In the slam dunk contest, it came down to Lutheran grad Josh Streeter and Auburn grad Antoine Pittman. Streeter stole the show when he dunked over fellow Rock Valley grad Madi Hecox for a perfect score. However, that dunk came in the prelims. Pittman wowed the judges as well with a 50 in the prelims, before winning the title in extra dunks.
After addressing the crowd with the trophy shortly after 7 o’clock, VanVleet settled in with everyone else for a three-point shooting contest and a dunk contest. The three-point competition came down to Pecatonica sophomore Hunter Hoffman and East head boys basketball coach Roy Sackmaster, with Hoffman winning in overtime after they tied in the finals.
The dunk contest brought every fan out of their seat. Lutheran graduate Josh Streeter and Auburn graduate Antoine Pittman put on a show through two rounds and the finals, with Pittman edging Streeter out by three points. Celebrity judges for the dunk contest included VanVleet himself, Auburn head boys basketball coach Bryan Ott, and Rockford native Dean Lowry, who came home prior to starting NFL training camp with the Green Bay Packers.
VanVleet’s youth basketball camp now takes over the Sports Factory on Saturday and Sunday.
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