Last year President and General Manager Masai Ujiri admitted he took a bit of a flyer selecting the unproven 18-year-old forward Bruno Caboclo with the 20th pick of the 2014 NBA Draft. It was a gamble, but not that big of a gamble for the Raptors as it was obvious Toronto didn’t have any playing time for a rookie last season. The famous 2 years away from being 2 years away comment was generated because no one in the media had even heard of this kid before, but now the concern has to be was it true and has it changed?
Still, Ujiri didn’t make the pick for shock value. He took a project player that he hoped the Raptors staff could develop into something special.
“Honestly I don’t do it for reactions of anybody,” Ujiri said immediately after the draft. “I shouldn’t say this, I don’t care. We are in a business where I can’t react to anything. I just have to do my job and you hope the best comes out of it. Is it a gamble? Yes. Do you remember who the 20th picks of the last 10 drafts are?
“(Caboclo) is in Brazil not playing much for a club, playing a couple of minutes a game. It’s an outright gamble. (Our) scouts did a phenomenal job of going and seeing him and staying there and gathering information. We thought from the little information we have, he’s young, he’s long, he’s tall, he likes to play basketball, he’s got a little bit of skill, he can shoot a little bit – maybe there is something we can mold there.”
Fair comment, although prospects taken late in the first round of the draft can turn into steady rotation players or in rare cases even stars, there are a lot of forgettable selections in the bottom third of the draft. The hope was, however, Caboclo would develop into a star.
“Bruno is an athletic phenomenon,” Head Coach Dwane Casey explained. “At (the 20th pick), you are not going to get a perfect player, but this young man has a chance to hit it big. He is raw, but he going to be a guy that is going to develop in our program and grow and do a lot of things for us.”
The plan was to send Caboclo to the NBA D-League and the Raptors had their sights set on buying a franchise in time for the 2014-15 season. That plan, however, blew up in their face and their only alternative, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, weren’t at all interested in developing some kid that wasn’t ready to help them win games right away. Add that to the fact Caboclo wasn’t in the Raptors rotation or even practiced with his teammates and last year was pretty much a write-off for the rookie.
“I shoot a lot and come (to the practice gym in Toronto) two times per day and work a lot,” Caboclo told Pro Bball Report. “I don’t practice, I don’t work with the group. I only watch and I work after practice. (Coach Casey) says keep going hard, your time (will) come.”
“I learned only mental (aspects) because I didn’t play a lot of minutes (in Fort Wayne).” I had games where I was not playing, like five games, zero minutes. It is hard working but not playing.”
After returning from his final trip to Fort Wayne where it had become painfully apparent the team didn’t want him there, Caboclo’s confidence took an obvious hit. Then in those few garbage-time minutes he was getting with the Raptors afterwards, the rookie was playing even worse than before.
Toronto had to hope that Caboclo could turn things around after the season was over and before NBA Summer League started.
A year ago at Summer League Caboclo averaged 11.4 points, 3 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 26 minutes. He scored in double-figures in each of his 5 games and shot 39.5 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from deep on 26 attempts.
This year he averaged 12 points 4.2 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 29.4 minutes. He shot 35.1 percent from the field and 27.8 percent on his 36 three-point attempts over 5 games. Not exactly the improvement one generally hopes for in a player the second time around.
Caboclo’s shot remains silky-smooth. It still looks like he should sink every shot from anywhere on the court, so his shooting percentages are not that big a concern. Besides, he’s only 19-years-old. This year, however, he did look bigger and stronger. His defense was better as well and he challenged opponents with his length and quickness. He is ahead of where he was last summer.
“Last year I wasn’t able to speak the language and understand the plays,” Caboclo said. “But, now I know everything. I know what I need to do to do good this season.
“I gained 20 lbs in one year. I’ve been working all summer on defense and conditioning to prepare for the Summer League.”
A lot of the credit for any improvement should go to the efforts of Caboclo and the Raptors coaches and trainers since the playoffs ended. Caboclo has been putting in the time required to improve.
Whatever the results of Summer League and Caboclo’s offseason regime, at least this year the Raptors have somewhere for their young raw prospect to play. Raptors 905 D-League franchise will be located just a few miles outside of Toronto in Mississauga and coached by a Raptors assistant coach. There will be no more D-League DNP-CDs for Caboclo.
At the end of the season it looked like Caboclo was still 2 years away from being 2 years away, but even with those mediocre Summer League stats, it can be safely assumed at least one of those years is now behind him. The Raptors still don’t have any playing time for a raw developing prospect, but since the Raptors 905 does, Caboclo should be expected to take some big strides next season. How far away he’ll be from earning time in the Raptors rotation after that is going to be up to him.
The Toronto Raptors returning forward Bruno Caboclo and 2015 second round draft pick Norman Powell came ready to play in this year’s opening Summer League game against the Sacramento Kings. Caboclo showing confidence in his silky-smooth jump shot as he nailed three of his five three-point attempts and scored 15 points. Powell seeming to blow by the Kings defenders at will on his way to scoring 20 points on 8-15 shooting in just over 24.5 minutes of action.