Get to know the Raptors’ newly acquired Brazilian center.
Not much is known about Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira. His one NBA moment came on draft day, when a classic struggle between man’s afro and a Celtics hat gave rise to this glorious photo. It was wonderful.
Beyond that, Nogueria is something of a mystery. Here’s what we know.
Bebe was drafted 16th overall by the Boston Celtics, then traded on draft day to the Hawks. He was then stashed overseas in Estudiantes of the Spanish ACB, where he had played since 2009. He was born in 1992 (like Jonas Valanciunas) and is currently 21 years old.
Last season, Nogueira suffered a bout of tendinitis in his knees, which forced him out of action for a few months. He was permitted to rehab his knees in Atlanta under the watch of the Hawks’ medical staff. He also reportedly pulled his hamstring sometime after returning, and missed three weeks. By all accounts, those issues are now behind him.
We also have Nogueira’s physical measurements. The center stands at 7-feet, and boasts a 7-foot-6 wingspan, of which combine to give him a standing reach of 9-foot-6, which is only six inches short of the hoop. In Eurocamp 2013, Nogueria weighted in at 220 pounds. Oh, and he plays center.
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But his age and measurements only tell us so much. It doesn’t shed any light on his abilities as a player. For that, I have perused various scouting reports and watched as much video of him as I could find. Here’s my scouting report on Bebe.
In a word, Bebe’s entire game is predicated around his length. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially considering his reach and wingspan, but until he develops more tangible skills, he’s primarily a shot-blocker/put-back player.
- Key statistic: 3.5 blocks per 36 minutes last season
Bebe’s length translates best to his shot-blocking ability, but length alone doesn’t equate to 3.5 blocks per 36 minutes, not unless your name is JaVale McGee. Bebe has a good sense of timing, and understands how to make his tools work in his favor.
Most impressively, Bebe is good at contesting shots without jumping. Again, that trails back to his 9-foot-6 standing reach, but he’s also disciplined enough to not bite on shot-fakes, perhaps because he doesn’t need to.
For example, take this play from the Raptors’ July 11th VSL game against the Lakers. Nogueira loses the ball, sprints back in transition, and doesn’t try for the flying chasedown block. He stays on his feet for the most part, and uses his length to contain.
Mobility in defending pick-and-rolls
The modern NBA is nothing like the grind-it-down, post-up battles that headlined the late-eighties and early-nineties. Today’s game is played on the perimeter, dictated stylistically by spacing. Every play opens with a pick-and-roll, and it’s paramount for today’s bigs to effectively hedge and recover on defense. Luckily, it’s an area in which Bebe has shown promise.
The clip below, which spans three defensive possessions, gives a snapshot of Bebe’s defensive instincts. On the first, he hedges hard, and forces the ball-handler into having to make a difficult pass to the roll man which results in an easy steal. On the second, Bebe matches his man step for step, and flusters him with his arms. His man eventually trips, and the possession ends in a turnover. On the third, Bebe sags back in coverage instead of hedging, and backpedals, placing himself in optimal position to guard both the ball-handler and the big.
Nogueira possesses two key physical determinants of pick-and-roll defense in length and lateral quickness. He’s not a Serge Ibaka type who relies on power and his leaping abilities to snuff out pick-and-rolls. Rather, he is laterally quick, gets into position and uses his length to contain well (something Ibaka also does, just for the record). With more coaching and experience, there’s no reason why Bebe won’t be effective in deterring the league’s staple play.
Bebe’s main weakness is quite literally that — he’s really weak. From the eye test alone, Bebe looks bigger in VSL than he did in his time at Estudiantes, but he is still slight. He’s also doesn’t have much of an offensive skillset aside from put-backs and alley-oops. His weaknesses are discussed below.
Lack of Strength
This counts as something of a general flaw. His lack of strength bleeds into most aspects of his game — in rebounding, in post-defense, in rim-runs on offense — everything.
Being slight onto itself isn’t a death sentence. He’s young and it’s entirely possible that he bulks up, especially with the help of an NBA training staff. However, it’s not a promising sign that he’s naturally only filled out to so much. I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure there’s an ideal weight range for each person’s frame, especially if said person is aiming to play a grueling 82-game season against a sea of opposing giants.
Rather, it’s the symptoms of being slight that worry me about Bebe. As I discussed on this week’s edition of Raptors Weekly, many skinny players succeed in spite of their size, but it’s often because they don’t shy away from physicality. Take Tayshaun Prince, for example. For most of his career, Prince has weighed less than his shadow, but he managed to be an excellent wing defender in his prime by being physical, meaning he never shied from contact. He knew he was going to get knocked over, but it didn’t stop him from crashing boards or bodying up.
Perhaps it’s just a lack of experience, but I see a similar issue with Bruno Caboclo and Bebe. They’re both gangly youngsters composed of naught more than skin and bone, but more concerning, they don’t seem willing to bang. It’s less of an issue for a wing player like Bruno, but Bebe will face his fair share of post-ups and rim-runs, even as a token back-up center. A bulkier frame and mindset will go a long way.
Skip to 8:04 of the video below. The video by DraftExpress, highlights how Bebe’s lack of strength affects his play. Given his length, Bebe should still be a fine post-defender, but he will concede ground unless he bulks up a bit more.
- Key statistic: 8.9 rebounds per 36 minutes
This is mostly a product of observation, rather than statistical analysis (8.9 rebounds per 36 minutes is fine), but Nogueria tends to rely on his length to rebound.
The process evidently worked for him in Europe, but the bigs there tend to be less athletic on the whole, and quite frankly, it’s a different environment for rebounding. Almost every European team employs a floor-stretching four, which leaves the bulk of rebounding responsibilities to centers and wings. It’s not necessarily a feat that Bebe was able to grab boards there. That’s what he should have done.
It’s a matter of process over the results. Bebe doesn’t rely on box-outs to grab boards. He spreads his long arms and tries to reach for loose balls before they fall any lower. The analogy here is that he’s more JaVale McGee than Kenneth Faried. The drive to attack the glass just isn’t there. If it’s a battle between him and Reggie Evans for a loose ball, Evans is going to win out. Once again, it tracks back to the physicality issue.
Lack of post-up game
There’s not much to say other than he doesn’t really have one. He seems to prefer setting a ball screen, then rolling to the basket hoping for a lob-pass, rather than moving to the block, and calling for the ball. On the rare chance that he does post-up, he prefers to face-up and rely on his semi-functional jumper. He looks to have a right-handed hook shot, but that’s about it for a post-up game.
Rather than a weakness, I’d preface this point by calling it a limitation instead. Not every big needs to be a complete player like Hakeem or Duncan. If everything pans out for Bebe, he’ll be a bigger version of Amir Johnson, or perhaps Tyson Chandler. Pick-and-roll, mobility and defense will be his calling card.
Obligatory NBA Comparison
Every scouting profile needs a mindless comparison to an existing NBA player, so let’s dub a “Brazillian __________” tag on Bebe. Or, rather, let’s do something more sensible, and peg a target for him to aspire to. Given his length and mobility, I’d personally like Bebe to mimic Tyson Chandler.
Before I go on, I want to reiterate that it’s merely goal for him to become Chandler, who is a one-time Defensive Player of the Year. It’s not an expectation. If he ever reaches Chandler’s level of excellence, I’d be ecstatic. In his prime, Chandler was a dominant defensive presence who was a force in the pick-and-roll. The chances of any player replicating Chandler’s career is slim.
My reasoning is largely rooted in the similarities in their physical profiles, that being skinny centers who are mobile. Chandler has obviously filled out over his 13 years in the league, but he remains lean for a center. Consider a comparison of their measurements:
The measurements indicate that the physical tools are there, but application is another matter altogether. Chandler is also a vocal leader, something like a defensive quarterback, and a good rebounder. It’s a hopeful thought rooted in physical building blocks and a shared skillset.
In terms of next season, I’m confident that Bebe can be sufficient in his role as back-up center. He should eventually work up to around 15 minutes per game towards season’s end, mostly mopping up spare minutes against opposing benches. I believe he’ll struggle on the glass, so perhaps a bench pairing with Tyler Hansbrough could mask some deficiencies.
Personally, in terms of development, I’m hoping to see signs of improvement in the little facets of the game. Can he function in Dwane Casey’s pick-and-roll defenses? Does he have the sense of timing and awareness to defend at the NBA level? Can he set screens? To that regard, having a mentor like Amir Johnson is a great place to start for Bebe. There’s potential replacement in a 7-foot body laying in wait.
Note: this was written prior to Monday’s shitshow against the Mavericks.