One year is a long time.
At this time last summer, I was glued to my couch, ready to cover every single muscle twitch of Bruno Caboclo’s Las Vegas Summer League debut. The ultra-raw, sparsely heard-of rookie out of Brazil, the kid who could name all of one active NBA player, was about to give us our first look at what could come two years from two years from then. The Raptors won their LVSL debut, Caboclo showed flashes of why general manager Masai Ujiri rolled the dice on him at No. 20, and I wrote way too much about it all.
Fast-forward 12 months, and Caboclo is still the main reason to tune in. He was barely a rumor on the court in 2014-15, a completely expected and reasonable development considering his complete paucity of organized basketball experience. For all intents and purposes, Summer League this year is once again a major evaluation point for fans curious about Caboclo, and while all kinds of caveats apply about the Summer League environment, the next week should prove interesting as we compare Bruno Then to Bruno Now.
Not to adorn with some rose-colored glasses, but it’s hard not to be encouraged by what we saw Friday night. It’s far more than just the hair that’s grown, though the development in Bruno’s Cool Factor is definitely the biggest leap he took this year. He also looked far more comfortable on the floor, more aware of what a player’s responsibilities are on defense, and more confident in his jump shot.
Caboclo finished the game shooting 5-of-10 and knocking down 3-of-5 from outside, good for 15 points with five rebounds and three steals in 30 minutes.
The threes are a really nice development, and while I teased all-around good-guy Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun earlier today for hyping Caboclo’s corner-three making ability, it’s a great sign that he’s shown visibly marked improvement. The stroke looks more fluid, he looks far more confident letting it fly, and his length is such that no wing is ever going to block that thing if he’s decisive about shooting it. He let it go off of curls from the mid-range, too, and while he is fading without necessity at times – again, nobody is blocking that thing, anyway – it’s a more aesthetically sound movement than a year ago.
He also showed a willingness to put it on the floor at times, and twice he drew a foul by cutting toward the middle of the floor off the bounce (he was 2-of-7 from the line). His handle looks moderately tighter, though he’s still guilty on occasion of watching his dribble rather than the defense in front of him. He showed some nice end-to-end speed and control in driving the length of the floor for a transition layup:
But was also guilty of trying to do too much and getting out of control with a man tight to him. Two of his three turnovers stuck out as mistakes of inexperience, or a modicum of discomfort handling the rock with a non-coach defender in his grill:
His defense generally looked better than it did a year ago and than it did in brief D-League appearances. The benefit of having obscene length and good lateral quickness is that you can be a split-second late on your recognition and still be just fine. Caboclo seems to have developed a better understanding of how team defense is played, and he made smarter and more conservative switches than the run-after-the-ball Timbits Soccer approach he’s been guilty of on occasion. He also seems to realize that he’s far longer than he is a defensive stopper, and he sagged off of his man even on-ball, opting to give himself additional space to defend a drive, knowing he could quickly get a hand up in the shooter’s face.
That’s good coaching, and while it’s not the type of defender you wan’t him to ultimately become, it’s a smart step in developing his defensive game. It’s necessary to keep in mind – and this is not to carry the team or the player’s water here, it’s just a reality – that Caboclo has little actual basketball experience. He was drafted as an athlete and a body first, with the organization intent on slowly teaching him how to become a basketball player, and those steps are being taken methodically, by necessity.
Dwelling on the negatives would do a 19-year-old with little experience a disservice, but there were some minor, if expected concerns. He has the green light and he knows it. Once he made a few shots, he got a little eager to let fly. His paths to the basket need to either get more creative or more direct and aggressive. He still looks pretty weak and needs to continue to hit the gym, like every 19-year-old and like most 29-year-olds writing this article.
The “two years away from being two years away” statement may have been sensationalism at the draft last year, but Caboclo’s at least a year away from seeing NBA minutes, and that’s entirely fine. Following Friday’s game, he’s now played 301 total minutes across Summer Leagues, the D-League, the preseason, and the regular season. He won’t be 20 until September, and he’s likely slated for an entire season in Mississauga, where he may not even see heavy run to start.
His development curve dictated that last year be more of a personal development season. He moved to a new country, learned a new language, saw NBA basketball up close for the first time, and got NBA instruction for the first time. This season will be about putting some of his skill development into practice while getting him comfortable with the speed of the game. For as fun as it is to joke about Caboclo taking over the NBA, being the superstar, and so on, that fun shouldn’t confuse the fact that there’s no sense in rushing him to the Raptors, and there’s no sense in losing patience with the process.
So yeah, he’s still limited. But his set shot looks great, his confidence looks higher, and defense isn’t overwhelming him beyond reaching for balls. Given where expectations were a year ago, this is positive growth.
And bruh, that hair.
A full game recap is coming for tomorrow morning, if you care about players other than BRUNO.