When the Toronto Raptors traded John Salmons earlier this summer, they received a young unsigned former first round draft pick back in addition to the veteran Lou Williams. The long lanky center Lucas ‘Bebe’ Nogueira is a potential shot swatting machine who looked good as a reserve in Spain’s top league, however, a serious nagging groin injury has left him not quite ready to play for the Raptors in preseason games. Fortunately, his return to action shouldn’t be very far off.
“I am feeling very good, better than two or three weeks ago, but I am not ready yet,” Nogueira said. “So I still work hard every day without the core and practice a little bit with the team, but I am not ready yet to compete in the games. I do my extra exercises, cardio, everything to get better health and stronger.”
Nogueira looks good when he’s on the court and participating in pregame warm-ups, however, that only makes things more frustrating for the young big man because he knows he can’t play yet.
“I can warm up,” Nogueira said. “This is the worst experience of my life. Warm up with the team, do everything and the coach sees you, but I see the doctors and the doctors say, no you can’t play.
“I think for me, this is the best and worst experience. The best because this is my dream coming true, the first year in the NBA and worst because I can’t help my team.”
Nogueira followed the NBA draft this summer so he knew Toronto had selected fellow Brazilian Bruno Caboclo in the first round and had some idea about the team he had just been traded to. He was pretty happy to be going to a team with someone else from Brazil on it.
“I knew Bruno (Caboclo) was selected by Toronto, so when they traded me, I knew about where I was going, so I was so happy,” Nogueira said. “He is a young man who has a little bit of experience in Brazil with professional teams, an amazing talent.
“I have a little bit of experience in Europe, so my goal is to help myself, but (also) help (Caboclo) to be the best player he can be.”
While Nogueira is a rookie in the NBA, the 22-year-old has been playing professional ball at a high level for a couple of seasons, however, he recognizes the difference between playing in Spain and playing in the NBA.
“Before there was a lot of difference, but every year a lot of American guys go to Spain,” Nogueira said. “Because free agents here that don’t have a team in the NBA, so they go there or talented players in the NCAA don’t have a chance and come there, so every year the league in Spain starts to compete like the NBA. It’s impossible to be the same, but they start to have the same game – fast and stronger. They don’t have a lot of strong athletic guys like here, but every team has a couple of guys like the NBA, so the league is hard and strong.”
Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri recognizes Spain (ACB league) as a good place for young NBA hopefuls to develop their game and work on their physical skills.
“Nogueira can block shots and he’s played in the in the ACB which is the second best league in the world,” Ujiri told Pro Bball Report. “He played a good role there when he was healthy. He is a big player that is very mobile and can protect the rim and he can rebound. His body is still a-ways-a-way, but we’ll get him there. Contributing consistently, he’s still a-ways-a-way, but we plan to develop him.”
“I have a lot of advantages because I have a 7’5 wingspan and I can jump, so I am huge,” Nogueira said. “But NBA has a lot of guys like me and I never played in the NBA, so I hope to (be able to) do the same things that I did in Spain.”
It has been rough on Nogueira personally since joining his teammates ahead of training camp because of the groin injury. He has been limited in what he has been able to do and groin injuries are notoriously tricky to recover from. Nogueira has experienced good days and bad days, but his teammates have become his family away from home and this very outgoing big man has the support he needs while recovering.
“I feel like (my teammates are) my family,” Nogueira said. “I spend (more time) here than with my family. My family is in Brazil. So (my teammates) give me support to become a very good player. They help me because nobody has good days every day, so when I have my bad days, they help me. So, I feel at home right now.”
It is a good sign to see Nogueira in the pregame warm up drills and feeling better, however, the Raptors will not rush him back early. Listed as day-to-day, Nogueira is still not quite ready to play, but really that only leaves another thing for Raptors fans to look forward to this season.