Hawks’ Bruno Fernando looks to make impact in Play-In vs. the Bulls on Wednesday

Atlanta Hawks forward Bruno Fernando (24) dunks the ball during the first half in an NBA basketball game at State Farm Arena, Wednesday, March 27, 2024, in Atlanta. Atlanta Hawks won 120-106 over Portland Trail Blazers. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)



Atlanta Hawks forward Bruno Fernando (24) dunks the ball during the first half in an NBA basketball game at State Farm Arena, Wednesday, March 27, 2024, in Atlanta. Atlanta Hawks won 120-106 over Portland Trail Blazers. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

CHICAGO — Hawks center Bruno Fernando has a message for his younger self.

“You did all right, young fella,” he said. “It wasn’t as bad as you thought it would be. There’s a saying they say, ‘it’s never as good as you think. And it’s never as bad as you think.’ And I think, that would be one of my greatest things to say.”

Fernando recognizes that he has an opportunity in front of him Wednesday. The 25-year-old could, for the first time in his five-year career, play significant minutes in a postseason game, and he can’t help but reflect on the years it took to get here.

“Most definitely, I think about that all the time,” Fernando told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday ahead of the game. “That’s something that you don’t really go away from. For me specifically, it’s not even just how the season started, it’s how my career started, you know, just sitting and waiting for five straight years, and just waiting and waiting and just staying consistent, staying persistent, and just continue to have hope that someday, somehow things may change. And for that moment, it can finally be here.”

Fernando averaged two minutes per game across six appearances during the Hawks’ 2020-21 playoff run that saw them go to the Eastern Conference finals.

On Wednesday night, though, Fernando could get some burn, especially since the Hawks don’t have Jalen Johnson or Onyeka Okongwu available because of injury. Fernando recognized that his chance to play Wednesday may not have come had Johnson and Okongwu remained healthy. But he also understands that he has to seize the chance in front of him and make the biggest impact he can.

“The same way I have been,” Fernando said. “Just continuously trying to make an impact. I think I’ve done an amazing job throughout the year in the time that I’ve been given an opportunity to step out there and perform and help the team get some wins. So the mentality remains the same in just trying to go out there and impact the game, whichever way I can. Just trying to find ways to make the job easier for my teammates, as they do for me.”

In the regular season, Fernando averaged 6.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and one assist per game, while making 50.3% of his overall baskets. He made the biggest impact in the final 32 games of the season after injuries sidelined both Okongwu and Clint Capela (six games leading to the All-Star break).

Since Feb. 23, Fernando has averaged 7.8 points on 60.3% overall shooting, which included a career night when he scored 25 points, six rebounds, one assist, one block and one steal.

Like the night he dropped a career-high in points, his night at the United Center provides more reinforcement that the work he put in and the hope he held onto was worth it.

That’s why he would thank his younger self for weathering the storm of uncertainty that crept up early in his career. The Hawks selected Fernando 34th overall via trade with the 76ers in the 2019 NBA draft. He played 89 games with them before they dealt him to the Celtics in a three-team trade in August 2021.

The 25-year-old played only 20 games with the Celtics, averaging 2.9 minutes per game before they traded him to the Rockets in February 2022. The Hawks re-acquired Fernando at last year’s trade deadline.

But his time in Boston was filled with some self-doubt, and he forced himself to reflect more. That reflection turned into a letter to his future self that he constantly edits as new thoughts come to his mind. He declined to share the letter when asked and said that he would consider releasing it publicly one day.

“I had a lot of thoughts, a lot of things going through my mind, and I was (in Boston), kind of by myself,” he said. “So, I just took a lot of that time that I wasn’t really doing nothing to think and reflect. And I started to write things, instead of just thinking and let the thought go.”

Along with the letter, as well as re-acquainting himself with his faith, helped him find a sense of peace to continuously figure out ways to get better one day at a time and to make each day count. It allowed him to be more realistic with his expectations of himself.

“We all dream of being the best and having the best and doing the best,” he said. “But, you know, sometimes we’ve got to be the best at what you do.”

With the chance to play in Wednesday’s Play-In game, Fernando will look to be the best at what he does. Coming off the bench, Fernando often has provided the Hawks with instant energy. But also he has been aggressive at attacking the offensive boards, scoring putbacks or kicking it outside to the Hawks’ shooters.

He’s also had some strong moments as a screener this season, averaging 5.5 screen assists per game. Fernando will have to remain focused when setting those screens though to avoid picking up an offensive foul for setting a moving screen.

Fernando is ready for it.

“I think, for me just focus on doing a better job than I did the previous game when we played the (Bulls) a couple weeks back,” he said. “And obviously, it’s a team job. We’re all gonna find out ways to contain their whole team. The same way we help the guards, they’re gonna help us.

“But at the end of the day it’s just basketball. The whole goal is to put the ball in the hoop. And, as a team, we’re trying to get stops to make sure we go put the ball on the other side of the floor.”