I have to go back to the time we drafted Tracy McGrady to find an example of the Raptors selecting a player they truly didn’t expect to contribute in the near-term and were content developing on the side, solely because of his potential. Since then, from Morris Peterson to Terrence Ross, there’s always been a certain expectation that the player selected would be a meaningful part of the roster the next season.
Seventeen years after McGrady was drafted, the Raptors picked Bruno Caboclo. Whereas McGrady was chained to the bench by the villainous Darrell Walker and only got to develop once the latter was fired, Caboclo enjoys the full support of his GM and coach and can pursue a development path set by an organization that is committed to him. Both players were positioned as side-projects with no near-term expectations being set, one just happens to arrive in a more organized and vastly less chaotic situation than the other. Looking far into the future, perhaps it’s this organized context and improved relationship that will ultimately prove to be key if Caboclo does pan out. The hurt McGrady felt in his early years in Toronto considerably fed his decision to leave, which is something we won’t have to worry about with Caboclo, if it does come to that.
The McGrady comparison isn’t just limited to the development situation and can be extended to player similarities. They play the same position, were 18 years old at the time of drafting, Caboclo is an inch taller at 6’9″ and McGrady was 12 pounds heavier at 212. McGrady had a big 7’2″ wingspan for his size, Caboclo’s is at 7’7″. Both were raw talents which had not played any NCAA or international basketball, were not considered NBA-ready, and were drafted solely based on upside. McGrady’s draft stock had been made high, not because of any extensive scouting, but due to the success high-schoolers Kobe Bryant (1996) and Kevin Garnett (1995) were having in the league. It was a time where the NBA had yet to implement its age restriction rules and drafting high-schoolers was what the cool teams did, and so McGrady’s stock rose. If this was 1997 and the craze about young, raw, high-school talents were at its peak, Caboclo just may have surpassed McGrady on that 1997 draft board.
The Raptors organization, despite their considerable failings in every regard over the last decade, has been fairly adequate at player development which gives us some hope for Caboclo. Players such as Terrence Ross, Jonas Valanciunas, DeMar DeRozan, Chris Bosh, Morris Peterson, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, and others saw their games improve under the Raptors watch, whereas low-talent fodder such as Joey Graham and Rafael Araujo never had much of anything that could be developed. Given this history of bringing up young players, Caboclo should feel somewhat at ease that his future is in competent hands.
From a fans perspective, there really isn’t anything to lose and Caboclo gives us a sidebar to focus on throughout the season. In past years we’ve half-heartedly monitored the likes of Solomon Alabi and Roko Ukic in their quest to prove themselves to be something special, fully knowing in our hearts that that was very unlikely. In Caboclo, the equation is a little different. He possesses superior physical tools, is raw to the point where he can be molded through coaching, and is by the accounts we’ve heard, a dedicated individual who takes the game seriously. He appears to have the foundational elements that make a player successful, making it a matter of instruction, personal development, and above all, commitment from the player.
I feel it’s important to contrast the opportunity cost of the pick, i.e., drafting a rotation player, with what many ‘tank nation’ members wanted from this draft. There was a strong belief that the Raptors should have targeted a high pick in the draft to get a shot at the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Joel Embiid, players who are viewed as being NBA-ready and having a high-ceiling based on extremely impressive physical attributes and a short college resume. Though the Raptors 2013-14 season changed its course once Rudy Gay was traded, meaning that a high pick was no longer in view, the drafting of Caboclo should please those fans, at least to a certain degree. Rather than take a player with a decent floor and an above-average ceiling in any of the players that went between 21-30, the Raptors swung for the fences for a guy with potentially a very high ceiling but at the cost of near-term profit, which is what many fans who despite the road to mediocrity prefer. Instead of getting a guy who is NBA-ready and has a high ceiling, we settled for someone who might never even make it to the NBA but who, if he does make it, could be one of the most high-impact players around. I believe this is exactly how gambling works and when it comes to the crapshoot that is the draft, a gamble isn’t a half-bad option, especially if the alternatives are less exiting, albeit more stable.
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