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Can Raptors Trust Lucas Nogueira To Be In The Rotation?

It took until his third year for Lucas Nogueira to gain head coach Dwane Casey’s trust enough to crack the Raptors rotation and even though he lost his minutes after Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker arrived, if one looks at what he did objectively, the Raptors should seriously want to see what he could do coming into his fourth NBA season.

Nogueira has an image problem, mostly of his own making, but exaggerated by those annoying Raptors NBA TV ads where he says he is only competing against himself, he is not competing with Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl. Does he know just how naive that sounds?

It’s a theme that started a couple of years ago when Nogueira left a solid impression that he believed he is in the NBA for a reason and doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody. Call it poor communication in a second language or just the musings of a young player totally unaware of just how brutal the NBA can be.

Putting all that negative press aside, Nogueira made an impact last year and if he comes to training camp ready to compete for minutes, he does bring things the Raptors want and need.

When he’s focused and on his game, Nogueira is a flat out fast, exceptionally long and athletic 7-footer with quick feet and hands, good timing, an excellent screen setter and a way above average shot blocker.

Let’s put just how good he can be in perspective. Last season the NBA’s leading shot blocker Rudy Gobert blocked 6.35 percent of the two-point shots while he was on the floor and Serge Ibaka was tenth best at 4.2 percent per basketball-reference. Nogueira didn’t play enough total minutes to qualify, but he swatted 7.1 percent of the two-point shots attempted while he was on the court. The Raptors needed that.

In the 55 games he played more than 3 seconds, he only failed to block a shot 7 times. Even in a three-point shooting happy era, rim protection is still a big deal. Averaging just 19.1 minutes, he was Toronto’s leading shot blocker at 1.6 per game.

His offense is limited and that supposed three-point shot he’s working on isn’t proven, but of the few shots he does take (2.7 per game), over 75 percent are at the rim and he puts in over 75 percent of them.

There is a reason Nogueira doesn’t have the ball in his hands very often, however, he turned the ball over 1 out of every 5 plays he was involved in and unfortunately for Nogueira, that’s hard not to notice.

His 9’6 standing reach and 7’6 wingspan means he can erase some his defensive miscues and make everyone forget that the turnover causing the chance he just erased was caused by him in the first place, but it feels like most of his mistakes come from a lack of focus and that’s on him.

However, for all the warts with his game, he was worth it last year. Of the returning players, Nogueira has the third best +/- of +3.1 points, the second best net rating +9.8 and perhaps most importantly, he showed he could play at both power forward and center.

With all of the Raptors injuries, consistent 5-man units were tough to keep together last year, but of those units that played at least 5 games together, the third best at +2.7 points featured Nogueira at power forward for 10 games.

Using NBA Stats for 2-man units playing over 40 games together, Lowry and Nogueira were the Raptors second best pair on the court with a +/- of +4.3 points in 15.6 minutes.

It isn’t going to be easy to convince anyone, possibly not even coach Casey, that Nogueira should be a significant part of the rotation next season. The 25-year-old from Brazil is almost certainly going to cost the coach his voice almost every night he plays him.

However, unless the Raptors make another move via trade or free agency, Casey’s only other option to soak up minutes at the four spot could be second year forward Pascal Siakam, but at least there’s some competition so the decision doesn’t have to be made solely on trust. Even if Nogueira won’t acknowledge it, it’s pretty much a guarantee Siakam knows he’s competing for minutes.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

   Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson