In the NBA, it is not often that a late second-round-pick has the opportunity to sign a multi-year NBA contract with any guaranteed money. Last night, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported just that: The Toronto Raptors and the 59th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft had agreed to a three-year, partially guaranteed contract, making Dewan Hernandez a Toronto Raptor.
Just 4 days after Masai Ujiri inked Terence Davis – Hernandez’s Draft Combine roommate – he added the man sleeping on the other side of that room to his roster.
Having drafted Hernandez with their own pick, the Toronto Raptors had options as to what they would do with the Miami native. He was an asset to the Raptors even before he signed his contract, meaning they could have traded his rights to another team, stashed him overseas, or what’s most common for players of his calibre: sign him to a two-way contract.
Though a three-year deal with guaranteed money for the University of Miami product is surprising to NBA fans, it is not undeserving.
Hernandez has dealt with some hardship over the past few years. He had his hoop dreams snatched from him in an instant, when the NCAA declared him ineligible to continue playing basketball at the college level in January of 2019. Hernandez was one of 19 collegiate athletes whose name appeared in documents related to an FBI investigation regarding shoe companies potentially paying NCAA players while they were still in college, which would be in violation of NCAA rules. Though the charges were never backed by hard evidence, Hernandez was ruled ineligible to play for the remainder of the 2018-2019 college season, to which point he was held out anyways because of the ongoing trial. His attorney, Jason Setchen, had this to say after the case closed: “In my opinion, they have implied facts and drawn conclusions without sufficient support in the record to justify such conclusions. It is very unfair to Dewan. I am discouraged by the decision. I genuinely believed they’d treat him fairly and reinstate him. Unfortunately, that is not the case.”
Regardless of whether Hernandez did, or didn’t accept money from shoe companies, college players deserve to get paid for their work, and should not lose their right to play competitive sports for accepting money from a sponsor. Though his life from January 3rd until June 21st was nothing short of a nightmare, having constant stress about whether this case would derail his chances at making the NBA, and earning a living, it turned out as well as he could have hoped.
Not only was he going to a championship organization, with some of the best ownership, front office personnel, players, coaches, and training staff in the league, but he was going to an organization that had a reputation for developing overlooked players. Soon, he hopes to add himself to the list of the undrafted Fred VanVleet who became a Finals MVP vote-getter, and the late first-round-pick, Pascal Siakam, who is now the franchise player of the defending NBA Champions.
Hernandez fits the mold of the modern NBA big man, with great size, length, agility, and skill. He needs to add a little bit of muscle before he can bang with the big bodies in the paint at the centre position, as he currently weighs only 236 pounds at 6’10, but that comes with time.
From his first college season (2016-2017), to his last (2017-2018), he improved his stats tremendously. In only an 8.4 minute per game spike, he increased his scoring from 5.8 points per game to 11.4, in addition to increasing his rebounds per game from 3.1 to 6.7. His offense mostly comes from running the floor (like a young Pascal Siakam), but his shot, and perimeter game has great potential to improve, as he already has a good handle for his size (also like a young Pascal Siakam).
He’s also a very versatile defender, who you can essentially plug into any lineup when you need him. With his athleticism, he’s able to switch easily, and can cover ground quickly to get back in the paint to block a shot. Though he was not a ferocious shot blocker in college, only averaging 0.9 blocks per game, his 36 inch vertical leap will translate smoothly to the NBA game, allowing him to swat anything soft around the rim.
In 5 games at the NBA Summer League this year, he was a standout among all rookies, outplaying the likes of RJ Barrett in the Raptors’ lone game against the Knicks. It took him the first couple games to shake off some rust, having not played 5-on-5 competitive basketball since his 2017-2018 college season, however in his final three outings, he averaged 16.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per contest, proving that he’s capable of dominating the NBA’s future talent, and showing that he might even be the NBA’s future talent.
In the words of Bobby Webster, “To some extent, we got lucky that he didn’t play last year, he kind of flew under the radar. Had he had a full season, we feel like he wouldn’t have been available at 59.” The Raptors got the guy that they wanted. Now it’s time to see what they can do for him, and eventually, what he can do for us.