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One-On-One: Bruno Fernando On His Role, Screening & More

Atlanta's rookie center could be in line for more minutes in upcoming games, and the Hawks are counting on his energy & defense.
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One of the many side effects of injuries in the NBA is that they press healthy players into heavier duty. With Dewayne Dedmon out for the Hawks' current homestand with right elbow pain and Clint Capela still recovering from plantar fasciitis, rookie center Bruno Fernando has recently been thrown into the action lately as a counter to some of the more imposing big men in the league. 

Monday night, Lloyd Pierce called the rookie off the bench to battle Joel Embiid for 19 minutes, then started him in place of Dedmon against Nikola Vučević and the Magic on Wednesday. Fernando responded with 10 points in both contests, with nine rebounds against Orlando to boot. Given his energy and productivity, a case could be made for him to play more than the 22 minutes he spent on the court Wednesday night. 

"It just looks like has more of a bounce to him as of late," Pierce said. "Similar to what we've told Cam [Reddish] and De'Andre [Hunter] all year, is to not worry about mistakes. Be an energy guy, and what that means is trying to get some offensive rebounds, be physical defending some of the bigs." 

Fernando doesn't provide the defense or floor spacing, but has no issue doing the dirty work required for a player like him to get onto the court. He sets smart, solid screens, talks on defense, runs the floor, and makes himself an option at the rim on offense. His role is simple compared to that of Atlanta's other young players, but important nonetheless. 

"Be a great screener and try and get some of our guys open on the perimeter," Pierce said. "[That] will allow him to get opportunities when teams blitz Trae [Young] or show up the floor against Kevin [Huerter] or Cam, things like that. So we want to use his physicality, his energy, and he's done a good job of that." 

The rookie figures to play more minutes in the coming games with so few available centers on Atlanta's roster, which gives him a chance to find his footing and close the season with momentum. 

On Friday afternoon, Fernando spent a few minutes with Sports Illustrated to discuss his role as a rookie, the art of screening, and more. 

Sports Illustrated: You started the last game with Dewayne out. What kind of role do you expect to play over the next few games?

Bruno Fernando: I just stick with the same thing, stick with the basics and just try to come in and impact the game in whichever way I can. I just try to rebound and bring the energy off the bench, or even if I’m in the starting lineup I just bring that grit, that passion on the court for us, being able to stay loud throughout the game and communicate to my teammates. And I feel like that rubs off on everybody every time I do it. So I’m just gonna stick with the same thing and just come in being an energy guy for us.

SI: Coach [Pierce] talked about the importance of your screening the other day. How do you work on a skill like that, which isn’t necessarily the focus of a lot of drills?

BF: I think screening is just a matter of effort, and really knowing what you’re doing and knowing your teammates. And I think the biggest thing for me is knowing what Trae does and what he likes to do coming off the screen, and the same thing with Jeff [Teague] and Kevin and De’Andre, Cam and all these guys. So for me I think I’ve just gotta to a better job coming in and setting a hard screen that I know is gonna get them open and it’s gonna get me some open looks at the basket.

SI: That seems to be an underrated skill, but an important one for players with your kind of role. What sort of impact does setting good screens have on the rest of the offense?

BF: For sure. You’ve gotta by into that, and like I said, just setting good screens is gonna definitely open up the game for all of us because with a guy like Trae, playing with him, obviously he requires so much attention from other teams, so with us if we’re setting good screens it occupies their big guy with Trae and then gets us easy looks at the basket. So it’s not just beneficial for the guards, but also for ourselves.

SI: Brooklyn likes to drop its big men pretty far back in the pick-and-roll. Do you expect to get a few more open shots than normal tonight against that coverage?

BF: I’ll stick to whatever it is that I do, stick with the basics, and whenever I get an open look I’ll get an open look and shoot the ball. I just go with whatever the defense gives me.

SI: What kind of impact has Dewayne had on you in his first few weeks back in Atlanta?

BF: It’s growing, it keeps building every day. He’s a great guy and I love being around him already. I haven’t been around him that long, but just this much this much that I’ve been around him I really love and enjoy being around him. Even throughout the game he talks to me a lot, but off the basketball court he’s just a great dude. He kinda got that type of energy that I do off the court, just an amazing guy who comes in every day with a smile on his face. So for me to have a guy like him that I can learn from, and like I said, on the court he just tries to teach me stuff. Like V.C. [Vince Carter], he’s telling me stuff to do, what I’m doing right or wrong. So I just appreciate that.

SI: He seems to talk quite a bit in those shooting drills.

BF: He does, but that’s Dewayne. You gotta play through it, like you do in the games. So in the shooting drills I just try to do the best I can, and he talks shit all the time.

SI: Does having a player as vocal as he is help the rest of the team open up a little bit more?

BF: Yeah, you could see the difference the first game he came back, just having somebody yelling and screaming on defense and making sure he’s talking on the bench. A lot of times when we come to timeout, as soon as we sit down he’s the first guy talking. So to have a guy like that who comes in and communicates, he’s always one to have his message heard. So for us as young guys, it’s a good thing for us to be able to listen and have somebody who comes into the huddle speaking to us every time.