Bruno Caboclo's future is up in the air, and no one can tell you what it holds with any degree of confidence.
The man who was billed as the "Brazilian Kevin Durant" when he was selected in the first round of the 2014 NBA draft by the Toronto Raptors is still a complete mystery, a player whose legend exists only because of Fran Fraschilla's comments on the ESPN broadcast of the selection process, a few YouTube highlights and a smattering of action during Summer League.
Remember, Fraschilla told the world Caboclo was "two years away from being two years away" when the Raptors selected him, and there was no doubt he was a developmental project, one who would take a long time to contribute at a high level in the NBA.
However, his timetable has already been accelerated.
Caboclo participated in the Las Vegas Summer League, and he actually looked the part of an NBA player. That was impressive in and of itself, given his age and overall dearth of experience against basketball standouts capable of throwing on a jersey in the Association.
But can he pull a Giannis Antetokounmpo by shattering the developmental curve and contributing as a rookie in the season directly after he was drafted?
At this point, why not?
Summer League Showing
Even though Summer League is a proving ground for fringe NBA players and a chance for top-tier rookies to strut their stuff, it was still going to be the toughest slate of competition Caboclo had faced during his young basketball career.
Had he looked overmatched, it would have been completely and utterly understandable. After all, he was supposed to be "two years away from being two years away," and a prospect with an arrival date four years into the future surely couldn't be expected to thrive in 2014.
However, he held his own.
Caboclo suited up for the Raptors five times, averaging 26 minutes per game. During those outings, he produced 11.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.2 blocks per contest and shot 39.5 percent from the field, 30.8 percent from three-point land and 83.3 percent at the charity stripe.
Again, those are by no means dominant numbers, but they're entirely respectable. Just think about the per-36-minute averages: 15.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.3 blocks.
Suddenly, things look a lot better, particularly because he was more effective than expected with his perimeter shot. In three of those five games, he actually made multiple shots from beyond the arc, which would be a huge asset north of the border if he could do that consistently and continue honing his stroke.
Plus, as TSN.ca's Josh Lewenberg made clear after his performance, he's quite good at resembling a certain member of the phylum Porifera:
By all accounts, Caboclo is a sponge both on and off the floor, eager to learn and highly motivated to get better. He's about three weeks into his English lessons, spending 90 minutes with his tutor almost every day before games and practices. In the hopes of better communicating with his coaches and teammates, the first sentence he asked to learn was, 'Where do I go?,' a question he asks frequently in practice, to the delight of the team.
That sponginess will be quite beneficial throughout his career, particularly if he's allowed to develop with the big-league squad rather than being shipped overseas to an international league or demoted to the D-League to play against less talented players.
After all, he can glean more from NBA teammates, opponents and coaches than anyone else.
Need for Continued Development
As Doug Smith explains for TheStar.com, the Raptors are set on getting Caboclo as much high-level experience as possible:
He does not, however, yet have the one thing he needs more than anything else: The experience of being beaten on and beaten up by NBA players on a regular basis. Until that happens, the teenage Brazilian will remain little more than a long-term project.
'The big thing is we’ve got to get him playing,' said Raptors assistant coach Jama Mahlalela, who has worked extensively with Caboclo this summer.
'We have to get him in games to see, how can it transfer. We've done a summer of skill work. His skills, from where they were, are so improved it’s amazing.
'But it's not a summer of playing every single day against NBA skill. That's going to be the next little piece, and we'll get the month of September to get that worked out.'
In case you didn't click on the hyperlink within that pull quote, it directs you to the following video:
That was C.J. Fair, playing with the Dallas Mavericks, brutally posterizing Caboclo during Summer League action. The dunk was so vicious that the Brazilian forward drew a technical for his reaction, retreated to the bench and ended up breaking down in tears.
"In Brazil, you don't have athletic players like C.J. Fair and other guys," Lucas Nogueira told TheStar.com in his new teammate and fellow countryman's defense. "Americans are amazing, it's amazing everyone can jump here. In Brazil, no. Nobody dunked on him there, because he is big and he's athletic. And he's 18 years old, so it's normal he is sad."
Being dunked on is a sad inevitability in NBA competition.
You show me a prominent player in the Association who's never been posterized, and I'll gladly show you someone with a memory like Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen.
That passion possessed by Caboclo is terrific, and it's a strong indicator that he'll have the drive necessary to learn from his mistakes. A tearful outburst can mean one of two things, but the reports he's drawn from coaches point toward the more positive side of the spectrum.
However, he has to get used to being dunked on. It's one of many ways he must adjust to the sport's top league. For example, he must become comfortable guarding pick-and-roll sets. He needs to be accustomed to playing against NBA-caliber talent.
The only way he'll learn all of that is to spend time in the Association.
However, if he wants to gain the experience from opponents and not teammates, he has to be capable of contributing, which means he'll have to add something to the cause for this dark-horse contender in the Eastern Conference.
So, can he?
Fills an Immediate Need
Other than Caboclo, there aren't any wing players on the Toronto roster who qualify as oversized. In fact, most guys capable of lining up at the 3—Caboclo's natural position—would be considered the antonym of that adjective.
"We need a big wing at the three position," general manager Masai Ujiri told Lewenberg before the NBA draft, also noting that finding a big man capable of rejecting plenty of attempts was a top priority.
Well, Caboclo is the player who best fits the billing, though the acquisition of James Johnson does give Toronto a physical defensive presence at small forward. Nonetheless, Caboclo is now the biggest player on the roster who can realistically step on the floor as a 3.
Here's what the Raptors now have at their disposal, with the heights coming from Basketball-Reference.com—except for DeAndre Daniels and Caboclo, as they're rookies—and the wingspans from DraftExpress.com:
If you have to stop and marvel at that, I really don't blame you.
Caboclo is huge.
He certainly qualifies as the "big wing at the three position" Ujiri referenced, and he can even line up at the 4 in a smaller lineup, which Toronto will inevitably try at some point in the season when he proves his readiness.
That alone should allow the Brazilian teenager to contribute as a rookie, even if the Raptors aren't completely devoted to getting him developmental time on an NBA court. The extent to which he'll contribute is completely up in the air—no one can realistically predict the level he'll be playing at in a few months—but he will contribute.
What type of contributions will Caboclo make in 2014-15?
"I'm more comfortable, yes. Shooting, I am more fast, more strong, just better everywhere," Caboclo told Smith. "I am learning the game, the language—it's coming a little bit, that's all."
His time is coming as well, and it might be arriving even more quickly than previously thought. Even if he was originally touted as four years away from being ready for the NBA, that much is already clear.