Pistons work out Fernando, Gafford in search for big man
Auburn Hills — In a busy offseason, the Pistons will have several roster spots to fill, including a pair of point guards, a wing or two and a backup center.
Following a single season playing at the vet-minimum salary, Zaza Pachulia likely won’t return, leaving the Pistons to consider a couple of options, either in the draft or in free agency.
After hosting LSU’s Naz Reid on Monday for a predraft workout, the Pistons had two more big-man prospects, Maryland’s Bruno Fernando and Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford, on Tuesday, to become potential backups to Andre Drummond.
Each measured 6-foot-10 at last week’s NBA draft combine and provide a solid skill set that complements the pick-and-roll the Pistons seek in a mobile big man. In Tuesday’s workout, they had a chance to go against each other in a 3-on-3 session.
“We have a relationship off the court and when it comes to on the court, we’re going at each other because we’re both trying to get somewhere,” Gafford said. “When it comes to off the court, we can talk about it and laugh about it.”
Both are projected to be in the 30-40 range among draft prospects, so the head-to-head matchups could be important in distinguishing themselves for teams who see them as evenly matched in other aspects.
Fernando posted impressive numbers: 13.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in his sophomore season at Maryland; Gafford’s were just as impressive: 16.9 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Fernando doesn’t see the head-to-head workout as a negative and sees the draft boards and ranking as outside noise. All he needs is for one team to take a gamble on him and he’ll pay dividends.
“I don’t necessarily look at that; everybody I go against, I approach it the same way: I have to do my best and do everything I can to stand out and play basketball,” Fernando said. “I don’t care what’s being said out there, where they’re ranking me and ranking him because at the end of the day, all I need is a team to like me and once they like me and give me the opportunity to play and represent them, that’s what it’s all about.”
Behind Drummond, the Pistons will look to get more production on both ends of the court and with more pressing needs at wing and point guard, they probably won’t use a valuable first-round pick on a reserve center but could look in the second round if either Gafford or Fernando falls below the draft projection.
Gafford sees some similarities in his game and Drummond’s, in how they approach it on both ends of the court.
“Defense first and offense second. He doesn’t try to take the game; he lets the game come to him when it comes to scoring. He’s a crazy rebounder and tries to get every board he can,” Gafford said. “That’s how I try to base my game — try to protect the house and grab every rebound, like every shot is a miss.”
Gafford chose to skip the combine because he said he wasn’t in peak physical condition and didn’t want teams to take the wrong impression from him possibly having a bad workout. Sometimes teams take the refusal to play in combine scrimmages in different ways but Gafford wasn’t worried about it.
He was a late bloomer in basketball, not really playing seriously until he got in high school. Since then, he’s grown quickly, figuring out that he had a chance to play in the NBA as a freshman in college.
“It didn’t hit me until I got to college. Going through high school, the way I played, I felt I was good but not that good,” he said. “Getting in the gym and working on my craft, it came more and more to me that I could play on this level if I continued to work on my skill level.”