Bruno Caboclo was drafted 3 years ago by the Toronto Raptors, yet remains an enigma. Where has he been and what expectations should fans have for him?
The 2014 NBA draft won’t go down as one of the best in NBA history. Three years on, there’s not agreement on who was the best player from the draft. Joel Embiid has excelled but has a minutes restriction. Andrew Wiggins is an elite scorer yet rebounds and assists very poorly. Jabari Parker is a freak athlete yet lacks outside shooting. In the 2014 NBA draft, the Toronto Raptors selected Bruno Caboclo 20th overall in a draft where Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Nikola Jokic were still on the board.
Drafting Caboclo was stunning to fans and experts alike. The consensus in a weak draft is to either swing for the fences or draft a reliable role player. Masai Ujiri chose the former and rolled the dice. Years from now, when we evaluate Ujiri’s legacy, drafting Caboclo will be one of the most important factors. If Bruno becomes a star, Ujiri will earn praise for his foresight and courage. If Caboclo becomes a bust, Ujiri will be criticized for gambling when better players were available.
Bruno’s development since draft night
Bruno Caboclo is an enigma, an outstanding physical specimen who stands 6’9”with a 7’7” wingspan. Dubbed the Brazilian Kevin Durant by Fran Franschilla on draft night, he quickly became a fan favourite. Three years with the Raptors has yielded 22 games and one start. His production in those games is uninspiring to say the least. He has two settings: turn the ball over or heave a three from downtown. This comes from a lack of feel to his game due to lack of minutes.
To criticise Caboclo’s production in Toronto is unfair. He endured a horrific rookie year which did little to improve his skills. Prior to the 2015-16 season, the Toronto Raptors did not have a D-League team and shared the Fort Wayne Mad Ants D-league team with 11 other teams. The Raptors had no influence on coaching staff and development of players. The Mad Ants were more concerned with winning than developing Caboclo, who played a mere 62 minutes in 8 games.
Life in the D-League
Starved of any opportunity, it was hard for Caboclo to grow as a player. The growth of Caboclo was an important factor which led to the Raptors acquiring their own D- League team. The Raptors 905 allows for the team to develop their own players and work on specific skills. Appraising Caboclo’s season with the 905 is challenging. With his limited minutes in his first year in the league, we are not able to make meaningful comparisons between his rookie and sophomore year.
There was plenty of growth towards the end of the 2015-16 season. He displayed a cool head on the court. Prior to this, if he was struggling offensively he would drift out of the game. He showed he can impact the game in other ways like rebounding. Caboclo averaged 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists a game. Offensively, he shot 34% from three-point range, which is below league average. Bruno’s shooting mechanics are good; he has a silky shot with a quick release. He has improved his first step when catching the ball. This allows him to shoot before a defender can close out, which will lead to better results in the future.
The real progress made by Caboclo for the Raptors 905 was on defense; his length and wingspan should make him an outstanding defensive prospect. Towards the end of the season, he began to understand defensive schemes and assignments. At the beginning of the 2015-16 season, the 905 were reluctant to allow him to be exposed defensively. With increased minutes under his belt, they allowed him to switch in the pick and roll and adjust when needed. With his length, he is able to get the correct hand in the passing lane and disrupt passes. With Caboclo on the court, the 905 were 1.7 points per 100 possessions better than without.
What does the future hold for Caboclo?
It’s easy to forget that Bruno Caboclo is only 21 years old. Caboclo was plucked from Brazil and put in a foreign country without knowing English. He was famously summed up on draft night as two years away from being two years away. With half that time up, he still isn’t a reliable NBA player who can contribute now. Unlike the 905, the Raptors don’t have many minutes for raw players because they are trying to win now.
The physical talent is there for everyone to see. The Raptors are molding him into a stretch 4 who attempts multiple 3 pointers a game. With the 905, he averaged seven three-point attempts a game. He has a lighting release and the comparison that comes to mind is Channing Frye. If he can continue to be reliable at D-League level, then NBA minutes are a possibility. Given that he is still two years away is very promising for Toronto.
The team must continue to be patient with him, as giving up on him now makes little sense. A draft pick like this needs time and gentle encouragement. Maybe one day, he will become the Brazilian Kevin Durant. I’m not sure that will happen but I’m sure Bruno will be a fascinating player to watch for the future.
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