No one takes NBA Summer League too seriously, but for players trying to make an NBA roster or crack an NBA rotation, it’s pretty serious business. Impressions are made in these game-like situations and those impressions can determine if players like the Raptors 20-year-old forward Bruno Caboclo gets a real shot at playing time or is assumed to be destined to play for the D-League affiliate Raptors 905.
The Raptors drafted Caboclo as an 18-year-old project player. So inexperienced that he was expected to mostly play in the D-League as a rookie and even in his second NBA season. The goal was to see progress and now with his third NBA Summer League stint under his belt, there are benchmarks by which he can be evaluated.
As an organization the Raptors have remained positive about Caboclo’s progress from day one. Expectations were never set too high and encouragement has been the order of the day.
“I think all the work we’ve been putting in all season long, it’s coming into fruition for (Caboclo),” Raptors assistant coach Jerry Stackhouse said after Game Three at Summer League. “I think his confidence is huge right now. Hopefully he’ll continue to get more confident as he goes along.
“We are going to keep encouraging him as soon as he feels any space to let it go. If not, then get it moving and we’ll try to find something better.
“He’s been really good, great at the defense the last couple of games. I am really happy with Bruno’s play.”
Caboclo’s defense is better than two summers ago, that’s a pretty low bar. His blocks per game in Summer League have gone from 0.2 per game in 2014 to 0.6 in 2015 and 0.8 in 2016, but the better statistical indication that he’s playing better is he’s making fewer mistakes – 3.6 turnovers in 2014 and 2.6 turnovers in 2016, and taking fewer personal fouls – 4.4 in 2014 and 2.6 in 2016. Also, he’s moving the ball along on offense – 0.4 assists in 2015 and 2015, 1.2 assists in 2016.
Caboclo is long, athletic and fast, he has the tools to be a good defender, but what catches everyone’s attention is his potential to stretch the floor with his shooting and the potential to take advantage of smaller defenders in the paint. However, that’s just not progressing like one would expect.
Caboclo shot 39.5 percent from the field in 2014 and 30.8 percent from three-point range and that was very acceptable – then. This summer he shot 38.3 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from three. The three-point shot is improving, albeit slowly and he just made too many mistakes with the ball when he stepped inside the arc and not finishing in the paint the way one would hope from a player in his third Summer League season.
His Summer League shooting stats were in line with what he did in the D-League (40.3% FG, 33.5% 3FG), but continuous improvement is the order of the day and it’s hard to say Caboclo has made the kind of leap hoped for two years ago.
His rebounding still leaves a lot to be desired as well. Caboclo averaged 3 rebounds per game in 2014, 4.2 in 2015 and 4.0 in 2016. A 6’9 combo forward should be able to do more against Summer League competition. With the Raptors 905, he was grabbing 6.5 boards a game last season and he should have found it easier in the summer.
“You have that length and talent and you look like Kevin Durant, but you just haven’t had that same reps, that same coaching and the same anything growing up,” Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys told Pro Bball Report in an exclusive one-on-one behind the scenes interview during the season. “(Caboclo) needs playing experience, he needs minutes and he needs us as a coaching staff to help him every single day and be able to live with some mistakes and growing pains and I thought we’ve done that so far and as long as he just trusts us and is patient with the process everybody just needs to slow down and just let this thing happen and when he’s ready, if he does it the right way and doesn’t try and rush it, he’ll be ready.”
There was an opportunity for Caboclo to impress at Summer League this year as the Raptors really don’t have much depth at small forward currently. However, the big kid from Brazil still doesn’t look ready to take on much of a role at the NBA level, at least not on a team hoping to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The draft day mantra of “two years away from being two years away” is getting closer to becoming reality, but there are signs Caboclo’s game is improving in certain areas. All that may be required is another large dose of patience.