It isn’t easy for anyone to admit they made a mistake, especially when it’s a $7 million mistake ($10 million Canadian), but Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri finally felt forced to admit he may have blew it by drafting the very raw 18-year-old Bruno Caboclo and bringing him to the NBA straight away.
“Bruno is a tough one because I think I want to almost blame myself for bringing him too soon to our team,” Ujiri responded to Pro Bball Report when asked about his project player. “We wanted to see his development and it’s the price we pay. The price I pay.
“I wanted to see his development and it’s almost like he’s gone thru college on our team.”
It wasn’t supposed to go this way.
The Raptors knew they had drafted a project player in Caboclo and the plan was to purchase a minor pro league basketball team that summer and convert it into an NBA Development League franchise to give Caboclo a place to play. Unfortunately the deal fell thru and options and easy opportunities to get Caboclo playing time fell thru with it.
The independently owned Fort Wayne Mad Ants became the Raptors only D-League option for Caboclo and while they accepted the player assignment, they were never even remotely interested in developing teenagers for someone else.
Rather than getting some much needed playing time, Caboclo was treated to a string of DNP-CDs. The Mad Ants did successfully crush the rookie’s confidence and sent back a young player worse for the experience.
“I learned only mental (aspects) because I didn’t play a lot of minutes,” Caboclo told Pro Bball Report about his Mad Ants experience. “I had games where I was not playing, like five games, zero minutes.”
“It was embarrassing,” Caboclo later admitted.
The next summer Ujiri got his D-League team, the Mississauga Raptors 905, so Caboclo finally got a chance to play and he appreciated it. Caboclo played 32.7 minutes and put up a 16 point 13 rebound double-double in the Raptors 905 inaugural season opener in Fort Wayne.
It probably didn’t surprise anybody that the rest of his first real pro season in North America didn’t come close to living up to his first 905 game, but at least he got to play 1270.5 minutes in 37 games.
Last year there was hope he’d build on his first season of D-League experience, but surprisingly, across the board his regular season stats were down. Points, 14.7 fell to 9.9, rebounds dropped from 6.5 to 5.4, and blocks 1.8 to 1.2. Even his three-point shooting percentage didn’t improve, stalling out at 33.1 percent.
So why does Ujiri sound hopeful, even happy, with his progress?
“We are happy with how he finished in the D-League,” Ujiri explained. “We like the player he is developing into and we are hoping we can find some minutes for him next year. He is making good progress as a two-way player.”
Caboclo stepped up huge in the Raptors 905 seven game run to the 2017 D-League Championship. Averaging 12 points on 51.6 percent shooting, 41.9 percent on 4.4 three-point attempts per game, 5.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks, he looked pretty good. Not as good as Pascal Siakam who was the Championship MVP, but pretty good.
There were signs of Caboclo becoming that long lanky ‘3-and-D’ forward envisioned when he drafted three years ago.
“Whether he tries to be a knock-down shooter and a defender using his length, those are the kinds of players we are looking for. It’s only he has been a player on our team for a long time and people are waiting for it,” Ujiri said.
“I think it’s close. I think the coaches are happy with where they see him now.”
Caboclo is working out with DeMar DeRozan and his teammates in L.A. and would have played in the Las Vegas Summer League except he tweaked a knee ahead of the tournament.
The kid who needed an English tutor when he first arrived in Toronto and was still struggling to understand everything he heard last year is getting better at all aspects of the pro game. The kid glove treatment from his first 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys and the more demanding treatment from last year’s 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse was what he needed.
“One of the things being a foreign player and being a foreign very young player, probably the youngest player in the NBA when he came in is the feel for the game. The life of the NBA. The everything on and off the court. You almost have to teach those things,” Ujiri explained. “And these are the things he’s learned over the last three years and hopefully his body filling out, getting a little bit stronger, where he can stay on the court with NBA players will help him quite a bit.”
The Raptors can see the possibilities.
“He’s hearing me over there yelling go at him. (Caboclo) can do everything, it’s not that he can’t do anything, he can do everything so it’s about giving him the confidence to know that we want him to do it,” Stackhouse said.