Third year Toronto Raptors center Lucas Nogueira has all the physical attributes to suggest he could be the next Hassan Whiteside or better and after returning from a preseason ankle injury that caused him to miss the start of the regular season, he went on a four game tear that indicated the much anticipated breakout was about to happen. However, his nearly complete disappearance over the next four games is starting to raise some doubts.
Nogueira has been plagued by injuries and inconsistency since Raptors president Masai Ujiri brought the long lanky Brazilian over from Spain in the summer of 2014, but no one has ever doubted his raw talent. They were just waiting for him to “get it.”
“Basketball is not a secret, it’s just taking my life seriously and now the results are coming,” Nogueira told Pro Bball Report just before he went 3-3 from the field, grabbed 10 boards, stole the ball trice and blocked the Knicks 5 times at the Air Canada Centre about 10 days ago. “I just changed my bad habits and put in the work, so this is the result.
“The reason I have become the best player I can be or at least try to be the best players I can be is because I see the chance in the NBA going down, so I realized I needed to do something else/extra to keep myself in the league.
“The change was myself because I realized my chances are starting (to get) low and I realized I needed to do something extra to play in this league.”
Over those first four games of the season Nogueira averaged 8.3 points on 88.2 percent shooting, 7.3 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 2.5 blocks in 25.8 minutes and it probably wasn’t reasonable to expect the 24-year-old to maintain anything like this pace. He had returned just in time to fill in for an injured Jonas Valanciunas and that volume of minutes was going to vanish as soon as the Raptors starter was ready to pick up the +30 minute per game load he was playing before he got hurt.
When Valanciunas’ minutes went back up, Nogueira’s playing time collapsed and his impact dropped with each game that he wasn’t seeing 20+ minutes a night.
Averaging 11.7 minutes over his past four games, Nogueira managed just 2.3 rebounds, 0.3 steals and 1.0 block while shooting 0.0 percent from the field. In the last two games he’s hit just one free throw and collected a total of zero boards. The Raptors lost all four games.
“Every sport is about mistakes,” Nogueira said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s individual or team sports, the difference between the number one team and the last team is the focus or mistakes. That is the reason I try to concentrate and not make a lot of mistakes.”
However, losing focus has been an issue for Nogueira in the past and he needs to get it back and fast.
Maybe his recent disappearance is the result of the happy distraction caused by the birth of his first child. Nogueira missed the road game against the Nuggets to be with his wife for the life changing event and rejoined the team in Sacramento. It’d be understandable if he wasn’t completely focused on basketball during this time.
Valid excuses aside, Nogueira’s reappearance on the court needs to happen quickly. The Raptors have two more road games on this trip, Wednesday in Houston and Friday in Milwaukee, and after dropping both ends of the recent back-to-back to fall to 8-6, getting a couple of wins takes on a sense of urgency.
“I have my chance to compete and I’m healthy,” Nogueira said. “This is the reason I smile on the court. I can help the team. I have a chance to play/ compete for 20 minutes, 10 minutes sometimes, so this is the reason I’ve looked happy on the court.”
The Raptors are hoping the happy, smiling, and focused Nogueira is back in time for the game against the Rockets. He can help this team and if he isn’t ready, the rookie Jakob Poeltl would be more than happy to step in.