Raptors win LVSL opener, Bruno looks much closer than “2 years from 2 years away”

1-0 after an 89-78 victory over the Lakers, who are already clearing cap space to make a run at Caboclo in 2023.

Let’s start here: This was a Summer League game. They matter little, and the Toronto Raptors played against a Los Angeles Lakers team that did not start top pick Julius Randle, instead boasting only Kendall Marshall, Jordan Clarkson (a pre-draft favorite of mine who looked terrific Friday), Rodrigue Beaubois, Kyle Murphy and DeAndre Kane as conceivable NBA players. This was not a strong opponent, and the situation has been systematically designed for young players to work on their games in a risk-free environment.

All of those are reasons to love LVSL from a development perspective, and while it’s necessary to take any performances with cubic meters of salt, it’s also the perfect place for a player like Bruno Caboclo to start his NBA journey.

Caboclo, as you surely know, was the Raptors’ No. 20 selection in this year’s draft, a pick that shocked many considering his limited professional and international experience. “He’s two years away from being two years away,” ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla famously said on draft night, as the panel labeled O Escolhido as “the Brazilian Kevin Durant.” (A quick aside: some have reached out on Twitter suggesting we try to kill the BKD name. That’s not happening, but it’s part of why I’m pushing O Escolhido so hard. It’s Portugese for The Chosen One and sounds cool as hell.)

The book on Caboclo was that he was all length and athleticism, and that his development into a useful NBA player would take some time. Instead, it took about four minutes.

Okay, so that was just one move, but it’s an impressive one and serves as a nice jumping-off point for Caboclo’s debut evaluation. We’ll get to others shortly, but I think I’m safe in assuming most want to hear about Caboclo first.

He was…impressive. Again, Summer League, and all necessary caveats, but this was decidedly not a player who looked “two years away from being two years away.” Was he the best player on the floor? Of course not. Was he one of the five or six best? Probably, and considering he doesn’t turn 19 for another two months, that’s something to be excited about. Optimism should always be kept in check, and I’m sure we’ll be accused of fuelling the hype train, but I’m being honest when I say this: I walked away from Caboclo’s debut far more intrigued and excited than I entered it.

His clearest path to making an impact is on the defensive end, where his near 7-foot-7 wingspan can be an appreciable tool. That kind of a wing span on a player under 6-foot-10 playing the three or the four jumps out at you as you watch, and it clearly confounded Lakers players on several occasions. His length allows him to make gambles on the defensive end that other players aren’t afforded, specifically when it comes to reaching in as a player drives by – that’s something Caboclo flashed good timing with, and something he can do safely since he can reach in more aggressively than most without leaving his man. It also allowed him to look like a wacky inflatable arm-flailing tube man when guarding someone in a face-up situation, something that maybe won’t be effective against savvier players but can at least disrupt proceedings.

Perhaps most impressively, Caboclo showed solid instincts as a help defender. His length and reach are such that he has major potential as a shot-blocker on the wing, and if he can capably help on drives (and again, his length will let him close back out to his man in the corner with a hand up more effectively than most), those should come. He altered several shots and forced a couple of passes at the rim in a help role. It wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops, however, as Caboclo learned right away that being a good help defender will occasionally mean getting put on a poster.

On the offensive end, the team didn’t ask Caboclo to do a whole lot. The first play of the game saw Caboclo lose his man on a cut, corral a pass and score a layup, a nice icrebreaker for him to be sure. He also hit the above step-back three early on and nailed another late in the game, right after getting crammed on, finishing the game 2-for-2 on triples and 5-of-7 overall for 12 points.

The team didn’t task him with dribbling much – his touches came primarily as a cutter or spotting up – but he did drive once for a layup off-glass. It wasn’t pretty, and Caboclo’s handle is understandably raw, with a high, looping dribble. He also tallied three turnovers, though one was probably the passer’s (I believe Dwight Buycks, but don’t quote me) fault, dishing to Caboclo on a bounce as he cut into traffic. He racked up five fouls in his 24 minutes, too, which is to be expected as he gets a feel for the speed and angles of the NBA game.

Overall, it’s really tough to be anything but excited from this outing. The turnovers, fouls and handle are concerns, but they’re concerns you’d have with most rookies, anyway, and ones that are more than understandable given his experience level. The bigger takeaway here is that Cabcolo can already do some things well – frustrate passing lanes, provide help defense, and shoot the ball. It’s unclear how much he’ll be relied on when the season gets under way and whether more experienced offensive players could take advantage of his inexperience, but we’re so early in the development path here that it’s okay to look mostly at the positives.

This was a really, really good first step.

Think it’s a one-game blip? You can see more video on Caboclo here.

The 2018 NBA Most Valuable Player was not content with his debut, mean-mugging like the boss he has following the game.

Think it’s just Raptor bias? Here’s an encouraging take from outside our echo chamber:

Since we’re already 1,000 words deep just from O Escolhido and nobody actually cares about the flow of the game, we’ll go through the notables, player by player.

Bebe Nogueira
While it wasn’t quite on Caboclo levels, I also walked away impressed with parts of Nogueira’s game. Let’s start with what he has shown he can do already: hit the 18-footer, pass in the pick-and-roll, dive hard enough to draw a defender. He can be an asset in the pick-and-roll already, and as he learns post moves and more intricacies beyond “pass, shoot or dive,” he could be a solid piece on that end. He shot 4-of-4 for 10 points in 20 minutes.

Here’s what he couldn’t do: read the floor very well on offense. He had four turnovers quickly, and I counted at least two that were just poor passing decisions, once trying to thread a needle that wasn’t there and once trying to pass cross-court, LeBron James style, from the block. He’ll (hopefully) learn what he can and can’t do in that regard, but a young big man is almost always going to come with turnover issues.

Now, the enticing part, what he could eventually do: Nogeuira has strong defensive instincts, and at a long 7-feet, there’s obvious potential here on the defensive end. He showed an ability to trap ball-handlers above the 3-point line in the pick-and-roll, and his recoveries into the lane were about as crisp and timely as you’d hope. He was also in the right position to block shots as a help-defender on multiple occasions. The issue, then, is that Nogueira doesn’t seem nearly as confident defensively as he does offensively, which is backwards. Several times he was in the right spot at the right time to make a play, but either kept his arms down or didn’t make a play on the ball, limiting himself to being just a body in the way.

Again, it’s one game, and all caveats apply, but it was evident why Nogueira was the No. 16 pick as a long-term project just one year ago.

DeAndre Daniels
Well, you don’t have to ask Daniels to shoot. That seems to be the only thought crossing his mind at all times on offence. While it didn’t fall much on Friday – he shot 2-of-8, though he hit 2-of-5 threes – and his release is very deliberate, he’s got some stones, at the very least. The odd time he put the ball on the floor, his handle looked better than I remember from U-Conn, and he hit the boards really hard on the defensive end.

I’m still on board with the Euro-stash plan for Daniels for a year to help him refine his game and continue his growth on defense (which is tough to evaluate in this one given the competition).

Dwight Buycks
If he wasn’t already a lock to be waived by July 22 when his contract becomes guaranteed, he tried his darndest on Friday. Buycks does some things well – he’s aggressive, he has a quick first step and a tight handle, and he likes getting to the rim. Unfortunately, he’s already 25 and still has no semblance of what he should and should not do as the initiator of a team’s offense. I don’t think it’s a case of him trying too hard to keep his job, either, because he played like that whenever he got run this past season, too. Overall he shot 4-of-12 in 28 minutes, scoring 14 points and dishing five assists with just two turnovers, but his 12 attempts mostly came at the expense of the team’s offense, and he played matador on defense too often (he was bullied in the post by Marshall and lost his man in transition at least two times).

Scott Machado
Sigh. This is my dude, and he disappointed. 12 minutes with LVSL reserves is a tough evaluation window, but Machado dishes two dimes, missed two shots and somehow managed five turnovers. It wasn’t what I had hoped to see from a guy I’ve liked a lot as a potential PG3 since college.

Myck Kabongo
Kabongo was a DNP-CD, with nothing apparently wrong keeping him out of the lineup. It’s possible the Raptors want to get long looks at Buycks, Kabongo and Machado separately rather than splitting minutes each game. I know some fans want Kabongo, but it’s worth keeping in mind he averaged less than 10 points a game in the D-League last season and didn’t stand out in last year’s Summer League, either.

The Others
Hassan Whiteside – He is enormous, he flashed a bit of range and he’s active, if a bit out of control, on defense. 11 rebounds and a pair of blocks in 17 minutes could get him a longer look later in the tourney.

Marcus Lee – UCLA what’s good! Lee didn’t fill the stat sheet in his 18 minutes but worked hard on defense and looked a better passer than I expected. Still, three points isn’t going to get you a job.

John Shurna – If this dude was Canadian, every reader would be clamoring for him on the team now. He shot 6-of-9 and hit a ridiculous 5-of-8 on threes, good for a team-high 21 points in 24 minutes. Dude can shoot, that’s for sure.

T.J. Bray – 12 points with three triples in 22 minutes. Poor man’s Shurna, move on. (Seriously, these two combined for 33 points with 8-of-11 long-range shooting in 46 minutes!)

Darington Hobson – Like Lee, he didn’t stand out as a positive or a negative.

The Raptors play again tomorrow night at 6 p.m. We’ll have coverage, but it won’t be me. Hopefully it’s someone more efficient with their words.

Leave a Comment