It’s widely assumed the Toronto Raptors are looking for an impact player at power forward prior to the NBA trade deadline to fill the one gapping hole in their rotation, however, president Masai Ujiri may have other options thanks to the development of third year center Lucas Nogueira.
Nogueira has been an unexpected surprise as an elite rim protector backing up Jonas Valanciunas, but with all of the injuries and rookie Pascal Siakam being, well, a rookie, head coach Dwane Casey has given Nogueira significant minutes at power forward as well and that makes the big Brazilian a potential key to future moves by Ujiri.
“My normal spot is not the four, but I like it because when I started playing basketball I worked on the skills of a four like shooting threes, putting the ball on the court and passing,” Nogueira told Pro Bball Report. “I have a chance to play at the four, I am so glad to be in that position.
“I know it’s hard to guard fours in this league. Every night I am going to have a tough time at the four, so I have to be ready to play offense, but it is more important to be able to guard those fours. It is a big challenge in this league.”
Unlike many traditional fives, Nogueira has the mobility to guard on the perimeter and his length gives him an advantage in the post on both ends of the court. It isn’t easy to shoot over him, especially for those players under 7′. At this point in his career it’s mostly a lack of experience that’s holding him back from a bigger role, he’s already played four times as many minutes this year as he did in his first two NBA seasons combined.
“Every sport is about concentration,” Nogueira said. “The winner is the one who makes fewer mistakes and if you focus, you are going to make fewer mistakes.”
And yes, Nogueira makes mistakes, but while it isn’t a big sample size yet, Nogueira seems to focus harder when taken a bit out of his comfort zone playing at the four. It is certainly an intriguing lineup and a difficult matchup for most opponents when Casey has two 7-footers out there at the same time.
“I don’t pay attention to statistics about minutes at the four and the five,” Nogueira said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the four or five, every time I am on the court I try to help my teammates because I (play with) some of the greatest offensive players in the league. I just try to do the normal help as a four or five, I don’t care. I don’t pay attention if I block more shots at the four or the five.”
In a bit of a surprise, Nogueira has become a keeper in Toronto and it’s a good thing he doesn’t care about whether he plays at the four or the five as it means Ujiri can effectively tweak his lineup with an addition at either position at the trade deadline.