The Toronto Raptors assigned young center Lucas Nogueira to their NBA D-League affiliate at the start of the Raptors 905 regular season. The assignment made sense at the time. Nogueira had seen little playing time as a rookie last season due to injuries and the Raptors frontcourt was crowded with players well ahead of him in the rotation. The big man needed to play, especially after missing nearly the entire training camp and preseason with yet another injury.
As is so often the case in the NBA, things can change in a heartbeat. Jonas Valanciunas goes down with a broken bone in his left hand in a game against the Lakers and head coach Dwane Casey’s first thought after finding out is bring up Nogueira.
“I didn’t know (Valanciunas) had exactly broke (his hand), but next man up,” Casey said after the Lakers game. “We have to find out which way we want to go, so that’s unfortunate for Jonas. I think that’s the second time I think. When he first got here in his career he broke his hand. It’s unfortunate, but again next man up. I’m sure (we’ll) call Lucas (Nogueira) up from the D-League.”
Nogueira has played four games with the 905 averaging 22 minutes, 9 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, nearly half a steal, and 2.8 blocks. He has effectively used his superior height and length to change, deter and block shots and been a very effective offensive rebounder. His best game was the 905 home opener when he just missed a triple-double with 13 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists and 4 blocks. His on point passing has been a pleasant surprise.
“(Raptors GM) Masai (Ujiri) has been watching Lucas a long time and has been a fan,” 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys said. “And there’s a reason because he does a lot of stuff for that size and length. He can pass the basketball. He has good instincts, but you see that he has room to improve. Pick-and-roll ‘D’ at the end, that’s just a growth thing. You saw JV (Valanciunas) have to fight through that. It’s a process for these guys and it doesn’t happen overnight. Lucas is on an upward swing and that’s all we can ask.”
There is no question Nogueira believes he is ready to help the Raptors right now. In his mind this assignment to the D-League was only needed because of the time he missed in training camp and preseason. Nogueira is just itching for his chance to prove he belongs in the NBA.
“Unfortunately two years in a row I got hurt in preseason and training camp, so if you don’t play in training camp or preseason your chances on the team will be so low,” Nogueira said. “This happened with me, so this is the reason they sent me to the D-League to have game situation, get in shape and see if I have a chance there.
“I am not afraid to tell what I think. I am going to say something that I say in Summer League, I don’t have to prove anything to anybody. I got drafted in the first round, but of this is a great opportunity for me to show the scouts and coaches that I can play – pass, rebound, but it is not enough, the team has to win. The reason I am here is to help the coaching staff to have success in the D-League to have a chance in the NBA and to help my teammates to get a better contract. So I am not here to be selfish and try and do a triple-double or double-double (rather) to win the game because when we win, everybody has a chance at a better future.”
Nogueira has looked good in the D-League. Stuffing guys driving to the hoop is what was expected, but watching him hit his teammates with pinpoint passes cutting to the rim is a thing of beauty. As Mermuys has noted, the long lanky big man still has things to learn, but in the NBA, young players are expected to learn on the job. Just maybe he is ready to give Casey some productive minutes with the Raptors.
Opportunity has come knocking for Nogueira a little earlier than anticipated because of Valanciunas’ injury. Now it’ll be up to him to take advantage of it.