Some would call him a Brazilian folklore. Others praise him as an enigma.
As soon as he was shockingly selected 20th overall in the 2014 NBA draft, Bruno Caboclo became one of the more fascinating, tantalizing players in the Toronto Raptors organization. I mean, seriously: who wouldn’t get excited at the prospect of an agile, athletic specimen listed at 6’9” with a 7’7″ wingspan? The São Paulo product was instantly considered a risky long-term project the moment he was drafted, but with those physical measurements, there was at least a glimpse of the man once dubbed the “Brazilian Kevin Durant” becoming a potential defensive stopper down the road. If his development progressed according to plan, that is.
Well, since then-general manager Masai Ujiri and his staff embarked on the challenging task of morphing a raw, 18-year-old into a viable NBA rotation player three years ago, Caboclo has only marginally improved. None of his development strides are significant enough for Raptors fans to salivate over, and it’s still unclear how much, if at all, the 2014 draft project can contribute to a contending Toronto team.
It’s unfortunate Caboclo was unjustly thrust into the spotlight at such a young age with such lofty expectations. With a complete lack of basketball experience, in terms of both his fundamentals and knowledge of the game, Caboclo was at a disadvantage from the get-go. Fran Fraschilla famously proclaimed at the 2014 draft that the Raptors’ gamble was “two years away from being two years away.” That fourth year has finally arrived for Caboclo. If Fraschilla’s assessment holds true – and it has so far – the Raptors should start to get a better idea of what the G-League champ is all about this season.
The Brazilian’s snail-like development has occurred exclusively at the G-League level, where he’s been given far more opportunity to hone his craft with ample playing time. In the last two G-League seasons Caboclo has started 68 of a possible 71 games, compiling a 40/33/69 shooting line over that time. If there’s one sign of encouragement to take away from Caboclo’s 905 tenure, it’s that his shooting improved towards the end of last season into the playoffs. During the 905’s championship run, Caboclo improved his shooting percentages significantly (52% on two-pointers, 42% on threes), albeit in a small seven-game sample size. What’s frustrating to many is that Caboclo supposedly is one of the Raptors’ best shooters in preseason shooting drills. If that’s the case, the next step is obviously applying his skill, which is evidently present, in-game.
Aside from his improved shooting, Caboclo displayed a soft touch around the rim with the 905. He showed he was capable of bullying his matchup to get inside position and easy putbacks. The Brazilian also cut inside the lane on multiple occasions to get easy offensive rebounds and high percentage shots around the rim. His movement without the ball shows how Caboclo’s basketball IQ has improved. At the same time, his freedom of movement and the lack of resistance he faces when crashing towards the rim should be taken with a grain of salt. After all, his performances are against G-League competition.
Caboclo showed flashes of his defensive potential. His play on and off the ball improved, in large part because he’s now able to utilize his other-worldly length and athleticism as an advantage (as his forceful block at the 53-second mark shows). The physical traits are all there for Caboclo. Now, the focus should be on developing consistency and improving his recognition of offensive and defensive sets during in-game action.
A chance at a backup role with the Raptors this season seems unlikely, especially since OG Anunoby returned from knee surgery far sooner than initially expected. Caboclo would have to impress Dwane Casey’s staff to the point where he supplants Anunoby in the rotation because, let’s be honest, there’s no way he’ll beat out C.J. Miles for minutes. If Caboclo miraculously did get a shot with the Raps, though, don’t be surprised if he fills in at power forward for short spurts. Caboclo got some experience playing as a stretch-four with the 905. Despite his listed height, the Brazilian has grown to almost 7 feet tall. Given his added length, you can expect him to play at the four more regularly going forward when there’s playing time available.
Caboclo’s maturity, or lack thereof, was brought into the limelight in August. While playing for the Brazilian national team at the Americup, Caboclo refused to re-enter a game twice, prompting his dismissal from the team. It’s important to remember Caboclo is still just 22-years-old. There’s still plenty of room for him to develop, both on the court and off it.
The Raptors face a slight crossroad heading into 2017-18. Since he’s entering his fourth season, Caboclo cannot be assigned to the 905 unless he and the player’s union give the team permission. This presents Casey with a dilemma: should he relegate Caboclo to the bench the way he did when he was a rookie or stagger his minutes with Anunoby so he can continue developing? If Casey decides to keep Caboclo on the bench, expect his development to come to a standstill. Scrimmages and practice drills can only do so much at this point.
Those in Caboclo’s inner-circle should encourage him to inquire about a 905 return, especially if minutes aren’t accessible with the parent club. Another season in the G-League will provide stable minutes and more opportunity to develop under the tutelage of an impressive coaching staff. Regular playing time could go a long way in helping Caboclo turn brief flashes of success on both ends into consistent production.