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Bruno Caboclo’s hidden impact

In short, Bruno forced the Raptors to address their development strategy.

Bruno Caboclo is highly unlikely to be a rotation NBA player. Now in his fourth season, he’s rarely touched the floor and looked lost in the most recent preseason stretch. While the 22-year-old has played well for stretches in the G-League, his contract is up at the end of the season and the Toronto Raptors are in a cap crunch. And despite possibly being a guy that doesn’t get a second contract with this team, I think Bruno has been incredibly valuable to the Raptors organization.

If you follow along with Raptors Twitter during games, you know that we’re all gushing over the bench line-ups. Some nights it’s Delon Wright playing well, Jakob Poeltl has looked really good in the past couple games and even Pascal Siakam dropped 20 on the Golden State Warriors. It’s a party, and everyone 25 or younger is invited.

How did we get here? The Raptors are the rare team that is legitimately good while also successfully developing young talent. Zach Lowe even discussed with it with Ben Falk of Cleaning The Glass on a podcast from early last week (which is totally worth your time). Since Masai Ujiri’s hiring, Toronto has focused heavily on developing players and I’d argue that started with Bruno Caboclo.

When the Raptors stunned everyone by drafting a player whose only film basically came from a Motorola Razr, their hand was forced. If a lanky 18-year-old with a loose handle on the English language was going to turn into anything, the Raptors needed to change their approach. Bruno’s first season is a great example of how far they were from having the capacity to change that.

Looking to get Bruno some meaningful minutes, Toronto sent him to their D-League affiliate – the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. They shared that team with 12 other teams and had no control over the operation of the team. In turn, Bruno played just 62 minutes in seven appearances.

In June, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment announced that they were buying a D-League franchise, and Ujiri said that the experience with Bruno “really triggered us to push even harder” to get a team. Small potatoes in the MLSE portfolio, sure, but the franchise cost a reported $6 million, plus the annual operating costs.

Do the Raptors get a D-League franchise without Bruno? Eventually, yeah. Look around the league, nearly every team has their own team now. Caboclo sped up the need for a team, though. Having a first-round pick toil on the bench for the Mad Ants for another season was clearly not an option when the whole point of taking Bruno was because of his upside. Thus, the 905s are born.

With the 905s, the Raptors had a landing spot for more than just Bruno. During his tenure, Ujiri has a fleeced a few teams for draft picks. Now, generally speaking, you take first round draft picks in a trade whenever you can. But given Toronto’s situation as a contending team with a relatively (emphasis on relatively, acknowledging that the power forward spot has been a hole) complete roster, those first round picks were probably more valuable as a trade asset than an actual player. There was just no minutes for them.

Instead, Toronto had options. You can draft a guy you want and play him in your system with the 905s. There’s no pressure on the player to immediately contribute, and he can still play actual games. Or, you can find a guy you think fits a need right away and slot him in. Not all teams have that draft day flexibility, and it has paid off so far.

The convenient analogy is NFL teams and quarterbacks. It’s easier to find your next QB when you already have one, because there isn’t the immediate need for them to play. There’s room to work with them so they can learn the game. The NFL doesn’t have a development league, so they work in other ways, but the idea is the same: the leap from college to the pros is a big one, and it’s better to work guys in slowly than the alternative.

In short, Bruno forced the Raptors to address their development strategy. They’re loaded with young guys, and have never really been a franchise known for getting the most out of their players. There’s still time for Caboclo to turn his career around, but he’s left a mark on the franchise regardless of his on-court production.

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