Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri was trying to trade one or both of his first round draft picks on Thursday, but instead he added two power forward/centers to a roster that already includes returning rookie guards Delon Wright and Norman Powell and returning sophomore bigs Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira. There is no chance Ujiri starts the season with six young developing players, so someone has to go, begging the question, is the soon-to-be 24-year-old 7′ Brazilian Nogueira time with the Raptors just about over?
Nogueira looks the part of the modern NBA center prospect. A 7-footer with an outstanding 7’6 wingspan, he is long and fast with good hands and quick feet. He passes well and he’s even shown the potential to stretch out his shooting range to the three-point line.
When he’s on his game, he sets unbelievably great screens and swats away shots at the rim with ease, however, inconsistent should be his middle name. In his two years with the Raptors, he hasn’t been able to put together more than a couple of solid outings without becoming a frustration to watch and that’s been both in the NBA and in the NBA D-League.
Drafted 16th overall by the Celtics in 2013 Nogueira’s rights were passed around until Toronto traded for them in 2014 and brought him over from Spain. Injuries derailed much of his rookie season, but the promise was there and more was expected in his second NBA season.
Nogueira played 225 minutes in 29 regular season games with Toronto last season averaging 2.2 points and 1.6 rebounds. Maddeningly he scored a season high 14 points against Golden State in early December. He has talent and he knows it and that’s part of the problem.
The Raptors assigned Nogueira to their new D-League affiliate, the Raptors 905, nine times and in 11 games he averaged 9.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, but his heart often wasn’t in it as he didn’t think he belonged there. He was right – in theory, but the fact he didn’t consistently dominate games in a league where his physical advantages were beyond obvious suggests he needed the playing time to work on his game.
The Raptors 905 was 4-7 with Nogueira on the roster. He wasn’t helping them win games. By every measure, Nogueira played harder and better in the four games he was assigned to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants as a rookie and once a player has shown what he can do, that becomes the benchmark Raptors head coach Dwane Casey expects to be met and exceeded in the future.
Big men like Nogueira get a lot of chances in the NBA and a change of scenery may be all that is required to motivate him to realize his very obvious potential. However, the rope only gets so long at each stop along the way. If the Raptors want to develop the rookies Pascal Siakam (27th pick) and Jakob Poeltl (9th pick), they need to open up a roster spot or two.