February 16, 2018, 3:54 pm
Welcome back Hoop Ballers to our International Spotlight weekly feature! Brazilian forward Bruno Caboclo is the newest member of the Kings and this week we take a look into his game and whether he has a place in the NBA.
Four years ago the Raptors roster was already built around Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas making spacing, ballhandling and quickness (to attack closeouts) the missing pieces of this unit. Valanciunas is not a quick footed defender and struggled in space before developing a 3-point shot this year but he has been able to compensate for that with good rim protection and help defense instincts. The team’s offense used to be stagnant at times, so someone with good passing skills to help keep a constant flow and order in the offense would have been a good fit.
Coming into the 2014 NBA draft, Masai Ujiri wanted to add Canadian point guard Tyler Ennis, but when the Suns scooped him up at No. 18, he decided to go completely off script by taking little-known Bruno Caboclo. The kid at the time was just 18 years old, but he possessed a decent shooting stroke, could run the floor pretty well and had an impressive 7’7” wingspan. He stood out at the Basketball without Borders camp in Brazil in 2013, earning MVP honors but the Raptors disregarded the fact that he hadn’t worked out for any teams or played in a true professional league and passed on players such as Shabazz Napier, Rodney Hood, Glenn Robinson III and other, more polished prospects.
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“Two years away from being Two years away”
By making Caboclo the No. 20 overall pick, the Raptors caused every reporter to scramble for info on the little-known youngster from Sao Paulo. The pick was so off-board, it caused ESPN college basketball expert Fran Fraschilla to proclaim how “he’s two years away from being two years away,” a phrase that would long stick to Caboclo. Bruno had multiple promises in the second round but he told the Raptors their second round promise wouldn’t be enough so the team decided to pick him early. They liked Caboclo’s upside, didn’t want to lose him and were willing to be patient. “It’s an outright gamble,” Ujiri said.
The Caboclo team reportedly didn’t want to be stashed so the agreement was that he would stay with the team and spend the beginning of his career on the bench being mentored by the vets and practicing with them while being integrated into North American society, learning the language and adding some much needed weight. The plan was for him to develop with minutes in the G-League in the second year, dominate in year three and perhaps be called up in the majors as he polishes his overall game. In year four he should have been ready to contribute in the rotation but that’s exactly when the Raptors decided to pull the plug on him.
Rare Physical Skills
Bruno is an outstanding physical specimen standing at 6’9” with a 7’7” wingspan. The word “upside” was written all over him due to his impressive wingspan, his broad shoulders, his big hands and long legs. On top of it he is also a good leaper with explosive jumping ability who runs the court like a guard while his fluidity helps him take advantage of slower and less athletic players. He is a complete nightmare guarding the inbounds and with all the athleticism in the world his defensive ability is what makes him a great tool on the other side of the ball. Undeniably, the strongest part of his game is transition play where he easily beats his opponents by using his speed and athleticism. Look at him closing out on Pablo Prigioni and immediately sprinting on the open floor where he’s able to finish with the easy dunk.
Why The Raptors Failed Him
To criticize 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 Raptors did not have a G-League team and shared the Fort Wayne Mad Ants with 11 other NBA franchises. They had no influence on the coaching staff and the development of their players. The Mad Ants were more concerned with winning than developing Caboclo who played a mere 62 minutes in 8 games as the assignment proved difficult and isolating. He essentially red-shirted as he tried to learn English, develop his skills, and simply watch and understand the game.
A sophomore season was expected to be easier, with Raptors 905 in place — largely because of the need to get Bruno some substantial development. While the organization has since used the 905 to turn out a handful of excellent young depth pieces, the young Brazilian’s first year struggles were a major impetus for the big club’s focus on player development. Caboclo turned in an encouraging pseudo-rookie season, while last year brought change in the form of coach Jerry Stackhouse and a push to a championship that included Caboclo’s signature moment. A title-securing and career-high performance with 31 points and 11 rebounds. His overall G-League stats did show progression when the minutes were there.
What to Expect
Caboclo has a great natural touch but his form can be inconsistent and he is still a very streaky shooter. Shot selection has been questionable and he should get better percentages and production as he learns the game more. Not surprisingly, he couldn’t get over the hump offensively in the G-League as he shot between 33.1 and 33.5 percent on a large volume of threes in each of his four seasons. He struggles to create points for himself or his teammates in settling for contested jumpers and often stops the dribble too early causing the offense to become stagnant. The biggest issue with him though is that he still has just a basic understanding of basketball even after playing over 100 games in the G-League. He fails to move effectively without the ball, he misses out on opportunities to set proper screens for his teammates and looks somewhat lost at times. Here’s an example of taking the quick three instead of looking for the extra pass next to him with Cory Joseph wide open.
Caboclo’s natural position is probably as a small forward since he is quite fluid for a 6’9” player with a 7’7” wingspan. Unfortunately, reality has proven that he is too slow to play the three and lacks the power to be effective as a four at the NBA level. From his stints in both the NBA and the G-League, it’s clear that the Raptors organization tried to shape Bruno into a three-point shooter. Occasionally, he shows the ability to take the long stride toward the rim and finish in traffic although his ballhandling is uncoordinated and he fails to read the defense properly. Here’s a sequence where with Lou Williams closing out on him – he’s able to identify the mismatch and drive to the rim but he’s too late anticipating Willie Reed establishing position and earning the charge.
After three and a half years of playing in the G-League, he is now a legitimate defender who has learned to use his 7’7” wingspan and near 7-foot height to his advantage while understanding the nuances of team defense and cutting down on fouls. Bruno doesn’t lack effort and is constantly active, showing the ability to crash the offensive boards with aggression and create second chance opportunities with his length. Caboclo has remarkably averaged over a steal and a block in each of his three seasons and he really shows all the tools to defend the passing lanes and become a rim protector but his basketball IQ is still light years behind where it needs to be to be for an NBA player. Take a look at a series of steals he was able to generate with his impressive physical skills in a game earlier this season.
Even though he has all the makings of a good defender with his length and athleticism, it’s still questionable whether he is able to consistently defend at the NBA level. In the limited action he got at the NBA level opponents often blew past him for the easy penetration while he got bullied in the paint and failed to properly box out against bigger, stronger and more athletic guys. Look at how he is struggling to defend Spencer Dinwiddie as the quick guard forces him to commit the unnecessary foul.
The Kings would be smart to put him on the floor and see if can develop into a good on-ball defender who won’t mess up rotations but after playing just 25 NBA games the last four seasons this might be too much to ask of a kid that is still learning how to play team ball.
Coboclo was the ultimate swing for the fences type of pick, similar to taking a promising high school player who lacks any real experience or polish but the truth is he never developed as the team had hoped. He has shown a lot of improvement working under Jerry Stackhouse in the G-Leauge, becoming a more consistent 3-point threat and, more recently, redefining himself as a potent defender but he still has a ways to go. Here’s what Masai had to say after the Raptors shipped him to Sacramento at the trade deadline.
“It was difficult for us, because I just thought it was time. On the part of talent, I think we got that part right. He is a real talented kid. But in the process we got the D-League team a couple of years later and it’s a question from me whether he should have stayed over.”
Kings fans can look forward to Bruno getting a decent opportunity in a new environment and there is definitely hope as Jermaine O’Neal averaged only 11 minutes per game in his first four years in the NBA before becoming a six-time NBA All-Star. Expectations should be kept low until the kid shows that he belongs, however.
Hope you enjoyed reading this article and don’t forget to let us know about your favorite international prospect that you would want to learn more about. With fantasy playoffs rapidly approaching, make sure you follow all of our breaking news and rumors on our brand new account @HoopBallFantasy .
Stats are courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of February 16th .
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