The Caboclo Acquisition: Raptors Bet on Bruno

Are the odds of selecting a sure bet safer than a projected talent with potential?

Though 2014 was projected as the deepest draft in years it could just as easily have been described as the draft of uncertainty.

Three prospects from 3 different countries were heralded as franchise changers, but no one could mutually agree on the top pick.

In the next tier were more quality prospects and more questions. Two players within this group sat at opposite ends of the spectrum: Australian point guard Dante Exum perhaps benefited from a lack of exposure while Julius Randle suffered from over exposure.

Additionally, there was a group of young budding athletes projected as future stars (Gordon/Vonleh).  While others had excelled in college, yet left uncertainty if they could perform in the NBA or had already reached their ceiling (Napier).

But it was the Raptors selection of Bruno Caboclo at 20 that sent reporters, social media and the fan base into a frenzy. The question was simply: who?

Raptors GM: Masai Ujiri and his staff had worked tirelessly to secure home grown talent Tyler Ennis, but Chicago’s action to move their 16th and 19th picks ironically to the team Ujiri had left for Toronto may well have set the dominoes in motion for Phoenix to steal Ennis.  Reports said Caboclo had a guarantee from the Raptors at 37, however Toronto heard rumblings *4 other teams were interested in acquiring Caboclo prior to that.

* The Starters: Tas Melas reported Oklahoma City and San Antonio were both interested and Ryan Wolstat tweeted Utah and Phoenix were hot after Caboclo and would have selected him with their next picks.

Prior to posting this article I decided to wait for Saturday’s press conference just to see if my initial instincts shifted (they didn’t).

Ironically, Ujiri touched on a similar point to my thoughts below, so I’m not sure if that means I’m thinking like a G.M. or it was just a fortunate coincidence. Regardless, here was my preliminary response to the frenzied reaction of the trade:

Question: What do the following players have in common with Bruno Caboclo?

  • Donatas Motiejunas
  • James Anderson
  • Alexis Ajinca
  • Jason Smith
  • Renaldo Balkman
  • Julius Hodge

Answer: They all were selected 20th in the NBA draft in the last 10 years.

I’m sure most fans would agree players such as Ibaka, Batum, Dragic, Pekovic, Asik, Arenas, and Ginobili are all better talents than the listed players. Amazingly all of them were drafted after 20 and were considered projects or chances.  In fact the first 5 names on this second list were drafted in 2008. For the most part these 5 have outperformed many of the picks selected before them.

The point is, when it comes to drafting a prospect certainly skill and ceiling are factors but equally important is the player’s drive. It’s why so many teams consider intangibles like motor, basketball I.Q. and the player’s commitment to improve.

I get why some of the Raptor faithful get anxious especially given duds like Caboclo’s countryman Rafael Araujo .  To those fans let me remind you of Oden, Beasley, Porter, Yi, Flynn, Morrison and Thabeet who were all selected in the top six of their drafts.

Past Raptor picks Damon Stoudemire (Rookie of the Year) was not a popular choice and many were disappointed we selected Terrence Ross over Austin Rivers.  The bottom line is drafting isn’t an exact science and sometimes you swing for the fences and get lucky.

As fans we want the best for our team especially after their most recent success, but remember it’s the current nucleus that got the team there.  Let’s return to December; how many of you thought the Rudy Gay trade signaled the Raptors entry into tank mode? Well, in fairness I didn’t, but I’m the eternal optimist.  Keep in mind Ujiri landed in management due to his prowess in scouting.

Yes the Bruno Caboclo pick surprised virtually everyone on the set of the draft, the media and the fan base, however as highlighted above he was on several other teams’ radar. Given there was interest from the Thunder and Spurs we can assume this wasn’t a complete wild card pick. Kenneth Faried wasn’t as high on most GM’s lists either and he made Ujiri look brilliant.

The next step for Caboclo will be heading to Los Angeles where several players are spending their off season. Assistant Coach and player development specialist Jesse Mermuys is also living there to assist the players in their individual off season homework. Caboclo will undoubtedly be given an extensive list of areas to focus on, meet his new teammates and more importantly be shown the work ethic required by team leaders Johnson and DeRozan in order to succeed in the NBA.

Brazilian Basketball player Bruno Caboclo drafted 20th over all by the Raptors arrives on Porter Airlines  from Newark NJ at Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto. Toronto Star reporter Isabel Teotonio (in Red) talks to Bruno as he arrived.

As mentioned, I had wanted to see our new recruit prior to finalizing this piece and I’m glad I waited. In live footage we are treated to the young colt sinking three consecutive 3-point shots and 3 consecutive free throws. Immediately you see his length, basketball body (albeit one he needs to grow into and add muscle) and his raw potential. An excerpt from Open Gym provides some additional insight.

In his first media throng Bruno Caboclo definitely looks as young as his 18 years; however there is a certain endearing quality to him. In his best English he responds to questions of what he can bring to the team (3 & D), his favorite player (Durant) and how he feels about the ESPN correspondents over repeated 2 and 2 assessment. This last question draws a quick look at the interpreter for verification of what he heard.  He replies this is probably accurate, but stresses he intends to work hard to lower that timeframe.

As news broke late Sunday, Ujiri had traded John Salmons to Atlanta for Lou Williams and Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira it reminded me of Valanciunas first year with the club. At that time Linas Kleiza was a teammate who offered Jonas another Lithuanian speaking teammate.  If Nogueira remains with the club this would be a similar situation.  Side Note: For those feeling Ujiri whiffed on fulfilling specific needs of the team this acquisition offers a solid option at shooting guard in Lou Williams and potentially explains why the Raptors didn’t select either Canadian center Bachynski or Bhullar or invite either to summer league since this deal may already have been in the works.

When speaking to reporters Ujiri submits he knows the pick wasn’t popular but takes the stance that Caboclo is a long shot he was willing to bet on.  Then he masterfully uses the ESPN timeframe comment and stretches the terms out to five years. In one fell swoop he has flipped the script to remove any pressure from Caboclo’s timetable to meet specific deadlines as well as state he doesn’t care if it’s a popular decision, rather it’s simply his job and part of that is taking chances on talent.

Let’s face it there are no guarantees when it comes to the draft.  Just as the Raptors are taking a calculated risk, so too are the Sixers with Joel Embiid who could suffer a similar fate to Greg Oden or be plagued perennially with foot injuries like Brooke Lopez.

Though we really only have the brief footage we saw in Bruno’s introduction Saturday (and some grainy Youtube footage), there are a few stats which stand out to solicit some excitement regarding his upside. There’s the fact Caboclo’s estimated reach is measured at 7’7” that’s more than highly touted Noah Vonleh. There is his ability to hit the 3 pointer with ease and his propensity to want to play defense. Above all there are the reports from interviews in his native Brazil where he speaks to wanting to be the best player in the NBA and wanting to make his family and country proud. That and the fact he is just 18 point to Ujiri and Casey’s excitement.

Sure, Caboclo may never pan out and may never play significant minutes or contribute. On the other hand, he might be one of those rare talents who exceed expectations, matures rapidly and becomes the missing piece in our core group.  For those who are still unsure, remember Nic Stauskas went from being a player not even projected to be drafted to being selected eighth or the much hyped Joel Embiid who, up until four years ago hadn’t even played basketball.

Personally, I’ll take my chances on a prospect with unlimited raw talent over a bench player who might not even play or translate to the pros. I’m betting on the odds of Caboclo succeeding based purely on his obvious potential, what appears to be a drive to  make it  and our development staff who’ve worked wonders with the core youth on the Raptors.  If and when he does I’ll add another jersey to my collection. I’m just hoping we can convince the Marketing department to put his first name on it too because come on, how cool would a jersey with the name Bruno on it be?

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