The tall, thin, bouncy center who was playing for Estudiantes of the Spanish league two years ago hardly looks like the same player as he starts his second season with the Toronto Raptors. The 23-year-old bulked up considerably over the summer and is now listed at 241 lbs. The change was deliberate. Lucas Nogueira believed he needed the extra strength to compete in the NBA, but it has come at the cost of some of his bounce. The kid who has pictures on his phone of him coming within inches of the top of the backboard can only just comfortably dunk now.
“Honestly, I don’t have the bounce of three, four years ago,” Nogueira told Pro Bball Report. “From last year to this year I put on 42 lbs. It’s a lot, so I don’t think my body is ready yet to run and jump like two, three, four years ago when I was 180-200 lbs. Alex (McKechnie, director sports science) and Jon Lee (strength and conditioning coach), they make me get better, use my body to get stronger and still run and jump like two years ago, but I am a very tall and long guy, so this makes for easy dunks. A couple of years ago I had a good bounce, but (now) I don’t have the same bounce compared to last year.”
Nogueira knows he needs to play and if he isn’t going to get time in Toronto, he is enthusiastic about getting minutes in Mississauga with the Raptors 905.
“For sure I am going to have more playing time because they have a D-League team,” Nogueira said. “I just have to figure out where I’ll have playing time, here or there in Mississauga. Last year I was sent to the D-League and had great games because I took the D-League as an opportunity to get better. A lot of guys took the D-League as a punishment and that’s why they didn’t have success in the D-League. The D-League is very competitive because everybody is trying to make the (NBA), so if you (go to) the D-League (with the wrong attitude), you aren’t going to get better, you aren’t going to play well, but if you go there like it’s an opportunity to develop my game and if I play well they’ll bring me back to the (NBA). So if I go to the D-League this year, I will have the same mind-set as last year.”
A big difference between this year and last is the Raptors have their their own D-League franchise that is coached by one of Raptors head coach Dwane Casey’s assistants. There will be no DNP-CDs for players the Raptors send to Mississauga or changes in philosophy or style of play. Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys will be running the same offensive and defensive sets as Casey, plus Mermuys goal is player development and getting guys ready for Casey to use.
“We are not going to sacrifice the development of our players for wins and losses,” Mermuys said. “That’s easier said than done. We will try to win every single game that we can and we want to win a championship of course, but we have to keep the big picture in mind.”
“Jesse probably (will run) the same offense and defense,” Nogueira said. “I think Jesse is a great coach and he has made a good decision because he probably is going to try and be a head coach in the future. If he wants to be a head coach in the future, he needs to be a head coach in the D-League, so I think it is a good choice for him. We are going to miss him (in Toronto) because he is a very smart coach and he helps the team a lot, but I think he made a good decision. I think he is going to help me if I go to the D-League.”
Nogueira is the Raptors third string center, but he is really seventh among the big men Casey has available. There will be a lot of DNP-CDs in Nogueira’s immediate future in Toronto. However, he is a player that seems to ooze with potential. A true 7-footer with a 7’6 wingspan, he is a natural rim protector and potential vacuum of loose balls and rebounds. The Raptors just need to find out if Nogueira can put those gifts to use on an NBA court and Nogueira needs the Raptors 905 to hone his skills, learn the Raptors sets and get ready for the day his opportunity arrives.