“I’m not here looking to be popular,” Ujiri said. “I’m trying to look out for the organization long-term. I think, long-term, we will look at Bruno and say at least he has a chance as a young player to develop for this ball club. “He’s a few years away. He’s a talent that I think at the end of the day we will be happy that we picked. We’ll develop him. We’re excited that we’ve got a talent like that.” Despite reports to the contrary, the Raptors genuinely did not think they would be able to get Caboclo at 37, or even trade down very far and still get him. There was certainly concern that Phoenix might take him with the 27th pick. Saying all of that, this seems like a decision that only Ujiri and a few other general managers could make. Even when Bryan Colangelo took Jonas Valanciunas with the fifth pick in 2011 — and that was far less surprising than the Caboclo pick — he supported it that day by saying that he had received praise from other executives in this league. Ujiri made no special effort to provide similar anecdotal support. He has four years left on his contract and has near-total control over the team’s basketball identity. “F— Brooklyn” aside, Ujiri has always been one to undersell, hoping the substance of his moves will shine through.
With his selection of the almost unknown Bruno Caboclo, a 6-foot-9 small forward out of Brazil who tips the scales at just over 200 pounds, Ujiri took whatever remaining wind was in the Raptors sails from that memorable first-round series with Brooklyn and made it vanish. For the most part, we all love surprises. Based on immediate reaction within that room Thursday night and certainly on Twitter and in fan chat rooms on the Internet, this was not one of those surprises we like. It wasn’t a popular pick. Ujiri knows that, but he can live with that too. The reality is no one will know whether Caboclo is a good pick or not for at least two more years.
Anyone who suggests today that they “know” how this is all going to work out is at best bluffing and at worst lying. It takes years for a draft to truly shake out, we’ve known that for a very long time and I would think Masai’s earned the right to be trusted by the people who follow his team and the people who work for it. Contrary to what seems to be popular opinion, it’s not like he closed his eyes and plucked the kid’s name out of a hat. He saw him in Brazil, he and Dwane Casey saw him in Houston and when the guy they wanted at the top of the list – Tyler Ennis – was gone, why wouldn’t they just go and take the No. 2 guy.
With the top targets off the board, why not swing for the fences if you have the intel to back up the gambit? Two of the most reliable NBA sources around let us know that the Raptors had been sniffing around Caboclo for ages and had even made him a promise to be taken at No. 37 as far back as December. When we heard some variation of “Toronto was up to something and would do something intriguing” we thought it just involved angling for Brampton’s Tyler Ennis. It was actually more than that. The team was ready to pull the curtain and let the basketball world in on the secret it had been expertly keeping under wraps for months. When it became known that Utah and Phoenix were poised to pounce on Caboclo well before Toronto could at 37, Ujiri pounced, willing to deal with the consequences. Toronto had encouraged the Brazilian not to come to North America to do workouts, knowing he would likely rocket up the charts based on his athleticism and shooting abilities. This is no Rafael Araujo or Andrea Bargnani situation. The kid has talent and he has heart. While that might not be enough, in the end, it just might be and Toronto, unlike some of the NBA’s golden franchises, needs to take chances like this every once in a while in order to meet the eventual goal of becoming a contender.
“Bruno is an athletic phenomenon,” Casey said. “At [pick no.] 20, you can’t go out and get a perfect player but this young man has a chance to hit it big. He’s raw but he’s going to be a guy that’s going to develop in our program and grow and do a lot of things for us. Defensively he’s long, he covers a lot of ground down [and] blocks shots with his length.” He passed Casey’s eye test immediately and the Raptors’ coach is confident he’ll turn heads once he heads north, calling him one of the most athletic players in the draft. “I know a lot of people don’t know about him. We’re excited to get him. He’s going to be a guy that’s going to grow with our program and no one is going to be disappointed once this guy is developed and hits his peak because he’s one of those guys that has a chance to hit it big as far as his potential is concerned.”
Daniels was not as good in the regular season, so Ollie was asked what changed at the most important time? “I have no roofs on my players, so we don’t even look at limitations. I think he’s going to be a great outstanding basketball player,” Ollie said. “He’s learning how to be more consistent and that’s not only in basketball. That’s eating right, sleeping right. It’s a lot of other things that a lot of people don’t see. “What changed his game, we made it simple for him. It’s about touches. A touch is a defensive rebound, an offensive rebound, doesn’t have nothing to do with points. It’s a deflection. It’s a block. When he’s playing with effort and energy, he scores. “We want him to get rebounds. We want him to be active. Then his talent just takes over. He’s 6-foot-9 and can shoot the three. I can put him on the post. I can manipulate the defence with him. But if he doesn’t play with that activity, it kind of limits him a little bit.”
“At the end of the day, everyone wants a winner on their team who knows what it takes to win,” Daniels said. “I played the four in college and I am just a guy that can do everything, but (I need to) show them that I have more aspects to my game – can handle the ball and shoot the ball – rebounding and playing defense.” If Daniels can show enough to Head Coach Dwane Casey this summer, then there’s a chance he’ll be in Toronto when the preseason starts, but it sounds like the Raptors have him slotted for development elsewhere next season as he learns to play the three position in the pros.
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