Toronto Raptors third year center Lucas Nogueira has often looked more like a rookie in his first real shot at playing in head coach Dwane Casey’s rotation and it hasn’t been painless, but the team has, once again, bet on letting “their young guy” play thru his mistakes and it’s paid off. Nogueira is getting better fast and making Toronto forget all about last season’s backup finger wagging center Bismack Biyombo.
“To become a better player, I think you have to make mistakes,” Nogueira told Pro Bball Report. “You got to get out there and make mistakes playing – game experience, game speed, game level. Staying outside and watching is not going to make you a better player.
“Now I have the chance to go and play minutes every night, this is the reason it looks like I am taking a step forward on defense and offense and transition.”
Now with 21 games under his belt this season, Nogueira can point to stats that show he has already done some things Biyombo didn’t do (and may never do) after the same number of games.
Nogueira 2016-17: 21 games, 18.7 minutes, 4.9 points, 73.7 FG%, 4.7 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.8 blocks.
Biyombo 2015-16: 21 games, 20.7 minutes, 4.4 points, 46.4 FG%, 7.2 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 0.1 steals, 1.1 blocks.
It was a more serious Nogueira that showed up at Raptors training camp this season. He knew with Biyombo playing for the Magic this year the backup center job was his to lose, but in reality, he had barely played any more minutes in the NBA than Toronto’s fresh new rookie center Jakob Poeltl. To make matters worse, Nogueira missed the start of the season with a turned ankle and Poeltl was putting up some reasonable numbers in very short minutes – especially on the glass.
The Raptors love Nogueira’s ability to protect the rim – it’s outstanding, plus his ability to finish in the paint over defenders and be a legitimate lob threat is really nice to have. You can’t teach reach, height, quick feet or soft hands and Nogueira is blessed with all of that. Where he has struggled is where many long lanky centers can experience problems. Nogueira can get pushed around in the paint and it shows up in his rebounding numbers.
The advantage Poeltl has, even as a rookie, is on the glass. He’s just harder to move and last year, Biyombo, well Biyombo is a rebounding beast. Biyombo came into the games last year and maintained, in a different style, the strong rebounding presence starting center Jonas Valanciunas gives the Raptors.
In November Nogueira was getting pushed around and grabbing an anemic 11.9 percent of the available boards. He even went thru a six game stretch without a made field goal in which Toronto only won two games and in two of those loses, he didn’t grab a single rebound.
However, Casey let him play thru that very rough stretch and apparently Nogueira did learn something from his mistakes. His rebounding improved dramatically in December to 16.1 percent of the available boards so far this month. While that’s not at a Valanciunas or Biyombo rate (around 20 percent), it’s getting there.
The shooting slump appears to be over as well. In 9 games in December Nogueira is averaging 6.4 points on 77.4 percent shooting, to go with his 5.8 rebounds in just 18.7 minutes. He’s still swatting an impressive 1.9 blocks and swiping 0.8 steals this month.
“It is better to learn when you are playing,” Nogueira confirmed. “Now I have my chance to play, things are completely different. Now I have a chance to play, so (I use) those 18-20 minutes a game to learn the most that I can to learn from my mistakes and in the next game try to correct the things I did wrong.”
It’s all about not losing focus and keeping it simple. It’s easy to forget Nogueira has already played more NBA minutes this season than in the two previous years combined. All he has to do now is keep on doing what he’s been doing and keep learning from those mistakes.
“I try to be consistent during the games,” Nogueira said. “I try to do simple things, things I know I can do well and those things gain the trust of my teammates and coach.”
Apparently, Nogueira’s coach and teammates are trusting him and he’s been repaying that trust with steadily improving play. Last year’s much loved backup center in Toronto was Bismack, who?
Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson