Last year the Toronto Raptors sent rookie Bruno Caboclo to Fort Wayne of the NBA D-League and the experience visibly crushed his confidence. The Mad Ants weren’t interested in developing a teenager and he sat as a DNP-CD for most of his time there. Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys is understandably working under a different set of criteria. Now when Raptors head coach Dwane Casey sends a player to the D-League he knows his guys are going to play. Owning a D-League team is a huge advantage for Toronto when it comes to developing players.
“That’s why MLSE did an amazing job, Masai (Ujiri) and everybody, of getting this team to give these guys a chance to play and learn from their mistakes and get consistency to their game,” Mermuys told Pro Bball Report.
“The plan is to help Lucas (Nogueira), Bruno (Caboclo), Delon (Wright), guys that might come down here and be assigned give them experience so that they are not just sitting around watching up there (on the Raptors) all the time and then get guys that we have a liking to to get them under our umbrella. Guys like Ronald Roberts, guys like Sim (Bhullar), guys that we like, let’s develop them as well and who knows, maybe they’ll end up getting on the actual Raptors team some day in the future.”
What this means for the rest of the roster is it doesn’t matter how well you are playing, if the Raptors send down a player at your position, he’s playing and you’re sitting. The Raptors 905 exists solely for the benefit of the Raptors.
“To be able to manage expectations, you have to communicate openly and honestly on a daily basis with your team,” Mermuys explained. “I plan on being as raw, open and honest as I possibly can and let (the players) understand the reasons why – here’s the situation. I have already explained to Shannon (Scott) in front of the team, you can be getting a triple-double down here, (but) if Delon (Wright) comes down, he is going to play and that’s okay because that is why we all are here and have this opportunity.”
As a Raptors assistant coach and head coach of the Raptors Summer League team, Mermuys has a leg up on developing the Raptors rookies and sophomores when they get sent down. Both Caboclo and Nogueira know and respect Mermuys and are even looking forward to playing for him.
“It’s always nice to have a familiarity you know,” Mermuys said. “Being able to coach Bruno (Caboclo) and Lucas (Nogueira) now two summers in a row should pay dividends for us this season. Obviously we want them playing for the Raptors at a high level, but until they reach that point in their development, this is the next best thing for them and we are just going to keep trying to keep them on an uptick, keep improving until they reach their goal.
“Right now (Nogueira) is a talented guy. He is still a young guy, so it’s just about getting consistency and to get consistency, you got to play. You need that game experience and that is what this whole opportunity is going to provide for him.
“Obviously I can’t tell you how long (it will take Caboclo to develop), but I do know he works really hard. He wants it really bad which is the main thing and now that he is going to get an opportunity to play major minutes and play through mistakes and have these growing pains and learning experiences – who knows? This should really speed up the process.
“If you just take (Caboclo) from summer to summer, he has come a long ways. Now that’s not obviously close enough for the NBA – playing on a consistent basis, but he is making big strides. Just to see that improvement is exciting for us as an organization. Now we are adding the 905 experience for him, it should really help him out. I am pretty sure he is really excited to come down here and play.”
It’s going to be exciting for the fans in Mississauga to see Caboclo, Nogueira, Wright and possibly Norman Powell play for the Raptors 905 as well. It would be reasonable to expect one or two of these young players to be regularly featured on Toronto’s D-League team if they aren’t getting minutes with the big club. Fans can be assured they’ll be playing when they are in Mississauga as well. The “D” in D-League stands for development and these are the guys the Raptors want developed.
“We are really going to do the best we can as a coaching staff to keep development at the forefront of our mind game in and game out,” Mermuys said. “As long as we are not sacrificing development of our players and our young players in our organization for wins, we want to try and do both (win and develop), but sometimes you can’t do both.”
The Raptors 905 home opener is on November 19th. It will be interesting to see how long it takes before one or more of the players the Raptors are trying to develop arrive. It shouldn’t take long.