Toronto Raptors third year center Lucas Nogueira disappeared for a few games after a hot start to the 2016-17 NBA season, but he has bounced back in impressive fashion recently to justify the faith president Masai Ujiri and head coach Dwane Casey have shown in the very long, lanky and athletic 24-year-old who had given this team virtually nothing in his first two seasons with the club.
“Lucas is getting an opportunity and doing a good job blocking shots, manning the lane,” Casey said after the win over Atlanta. “Doing a good job of using his length, timing it and in pick-and-roll situations, he’s doing a good job. So really happy with what Lucas is bringing to the table.”
Nogueira got his chance because the Raptors lost defensive center Bismack Biyombo to free agency this past summer and then Jared Sullinger went down in preseason with a broken foot. However, unlike his first two seasons in Toronto, this time Nogueira was ready to play and coach Casey needed his shot blocking ability.
“I have my chance to compete and I’m healthy,” Nogueira told Pro Bball Report earlier this season. “The reason I have become the best player I can be or at least try to be the best player I can be is because I see the chance in the NBA going down, so I realized I needed to do something else/extra to keep myself in the league.”
When Nogueira finally got into his first games of the regular season after an ankle tweak during preseason, he was ready to go. He averaged 8.3 points on 88.2 percent shooting, 7.3 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 2.5 blocks in 25.8 minutes over his first four games, but the big Brazilian has disappeared on his team in the past and in his next six games things looked very different. Shooting 0.0 percent from the field, Nogueira averaged just 0.3 points, 2 boards and 0.3 steals in 13.3 minutes. At least he was still blocking 1.5 shots, but even a backup center needs to be less one-dimensional than that.
As has been consistent throughout his time in Toronto, Casey doesn’t easily give up on his young players and his faith in Nogueira was rewarded with a return to form over the next four games. Back in the saddle again, Nogueira found some of that missing energy and it showed on the stats sheet where he put up 8.5 points on 86.7 percent shooting, 4.3 rebounds, 2 steals and 1.8 blocks in 20.3 minutes over the past four contests.
“They are trying to blitz our best players, so it opens the floor for other players,” Nogueira explained after the game against the Hawks.
It’s been obvious during the Raptors current six game winning streak that opposing teams are trying to get the ball out of the hands of Toronto’s leading scorer and mid-range specialist DeMar DeRozan and it’s opening up opportunities under the rim and at the three-point line for everyone else.
Nogueira is benefiting from his guards finding him under the rim for easy scores. Over 80 percent of Nogueira’s buckets are assisted and over half are dunks. The big man with the 9’6 standing reach can be a big target when he’s focused, running hard and setting good screens.
It’s only been 14 games played for Nogueira so far this season, but already he’s played more NBA minutes than in his two previous seasons combined, so there is still a learning process going on here. There are likely a few more ups and downs to what will likely resemble a rookie campaign more than that of a third year player.
However, this first big bounce back after a rough 10 day stretch is something he wasn’t able to do last year and Nogueira is starting to sound more like a guy who “gets it”. This year he came ready to play and he didn’t let a setback erode his confidence. Another young player to watch on a very young Raptors squad.
Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson