Will Bruno Caboclo Be the Latest Long-Term Prospect to Speed Up Development?

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 21, 2014

AP Images

Pretend we can all see the motion, and raise your hand if you'd heard of Bruno Caboclo before Masai Ujiri made him the Toronto Raptors' first-round pick in the loaded 2014 NBA draft. 

Of the roughly 1 percent who raised their hand, half of them are lying. The other half need to find hobbies, unless they're actually working in an NBA-related field or are from Osasco, Caboclo's hometown near the southeastern coast of Brazil. 

"Brazilian Kevin Durant" or not, this wasn't a prospect on many NBA radars. Only a few teams even met with him in person heading up to the June 26 festivities. 

In fact, when ESPN's Fran Fraschilla uttered his now-famous description of Caboclo, he surely didn't think he was exaggerating. Little did he know just how viral this clip and blurb would become (two minutes and 41 seconds in, Fraschilla begins talking):

"He's two years away from being two years away," the analyst says at 3:31.

But is he?  

Summer League Journey

If Caboclo really were four years away from contributing to the NBA, he might not even have come to play in the Las Vegas Summer League, but that's exactly what the small forward did. Even though he's just 18 years old, he suited up for the Raptors in Sin City. 

"He will also take part in the Las Vegas Summer League in July, and will head to Los Angeles before that to work out with several of the Raptors, as well as assistant coach Jesse Murmuys," reported Eric Koreen of the National Post, surprising the masses who thought he would sit out this summer. "He will be on the roster next year."

Already, the baby-faced prospect was ahead of that conservative developmental time frame. 

As the youngest player in Vegas, Caboclo didn't just play—he actually played well at times. 

During his five outings, he spent 26 minutes per game on the floor. Out there, wreaking havoc on the 94-foot-long space with his ginormous wingspan, he averaged 11.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.2 blocks while shooting 39.5 percent from the field, 30.8 percent beyond the arc and 83.3 percent at the charity stripe. Those obviously aren't great numbers, but they're quite respectable for a player his age with his level of experience. 

There was so much to be encouraged by, whether it was Caboclo knocking down multiple three-point attempts in three of his five games, using his lanky arms to corral tough rebounds or even doing a convincing sponge imitation. 

Whenever the Brazilian forward didn't understand something, he seemed to learn from his mistakes. And basketball wasn't even the only thing he was learning, as TSN.ca's Josh Lewenberg makes clear: 

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.

The language barrier can often be difficult, as a player has to be able to communicate with his organization to improve as much as possible. Caboclo is seeking to remedy that as quickly as possible, and it's not easy to avoid being blown away by that first sentence in his vocabulary. 

"He's a talented, young, 18-year-old kid. He's very, very competitive," Patrick Engelbrecht, Toronto's director of global scouting, told Bleacher Report's Josh Martin while in Vegas. "He wants to win, wants to improve every day, so there will be some days when he takes some lumps and then he'll move forward and get better."

Here's more from Martin, this time featuring head coach Dwane Casey talking about the language barrier: 

For one, his grasp of the English language is still in its infancy. With his agent, Eduardo Resende, now back in Brazil, Caboclo has leaned on Raptors teammates [Scott] Machado and Lucas "Bebe" Nogueira to translate his Portuguese.

"Once Bruno learns the language, that’s gonna bump up the speed of his growth," Casey said. "Once he can use one-word sentences where you don’t have to stop and wait for a translator, but you can tell he’s getting better with his English."

The support system is there for this 18-year-old. 

He has an organization that's invested in him, and the roster features two players who can help ease the language adjustment and any cultural barriers that present themselves.

"It helps a lot (to have Lucas)," Caboclo said in earnest to HoopsHype.com's Jordan White through his translator before joking, "We call plays for each other that no one understands."

But most of all, he's already displaying the type of work ethic that's quite conducive to blowing away the expected developmental curve. Plus, his basketball IQ seems more advanced than previously expected. 

More often than not, Caboclo picked up nuances in extraordinarily speedy fashion. He quickly learned that he should go to the corners to spot up for three-point attempts, and he never hesitated to challenge shots, even when they resulted in a posterization we'll get to later. He cut more intelligently as the week progressed.

When he develops more strength, his game will expand. For now, he's already playing heady basketball (relatively) and soaking in every bit of knowledge that he can. 

Plus, he's quite passionate about the sport. 

The Passion

DAVID BECKER/Associated Press

There's one quote from when I spoke with Tommy Balcetis, the Denver Nuggets' manager of basketball analytics, that just keeps sticking out in my mind. 

"His approach, and the fact that there's little he can't do on the court," Balcetis, who also helps the team scout draft prospects, told me, referring to why Jabari Parker was his personal favorite in the 2014 class. "All that talent can go out the window if you don't have the right mentality, and I feel like he has the right mentality. He seems to be extremely well-spoken, understands the value of hard work." 

How many times have we seen players failing to put the necessary work in and then consequently failing to live up to their lofty potential? On the flip side, how many times have we seen hardworking players maximize their talents and carve out roles for themselves, ones that weren't previously thought possible? 

Hard work pays off, and it's the result of passion. Passion would be something Caboclo has in spades. 

During Toronto's summer league contest with the Dallas Mavericks, the Brazilian small forward was brutally posterized by C.J. Fair, as you can see below: 

Whistled for a technical foul after his reaction, Caboclo retreated to the bench and draped a towel over his head, thinking he was ejected. 

"Still unfamiliar with all of the league's rules and hindered by a significant language barrier, Caboclo believed he had been ejected, heading straight to the bench where he remained for the duration of the game," wrote Lewenberg. Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun reports that the high-upside prospect was also upset the game was turning into a rout. 

"He got upset because he felt like he was trying to do everything, try to help out, try to do defence, try to do offence, try to do a whole lot," Scott Machado explained to Wolstat after the game. "He felt like whenever he went to go help, people were not helping him out so he was just getting upset at himself, at his teammates."

Caboclo has only been a part of the NBA for less than a month, but he's already taken that "NBA cares" motto to heart and then some.

It's not often that you can view being posterized as a positive, but such is the case here. After all, as Casey told Wolstat in Sin City, there are inevitably going to be ups and downs for this 18-year-old: 

It is (a good thing) because it shows he cares. He wants to play well, he wants to play better. I told him, "this is a marathon, not a sprint."

And it’s going to be a long marathon. He’s going to have so many downs and probably more downs right now than ups. The way he fights through those is going to mean a lot to who he is. Today he bounced right back and is competing. From his situation it wasn’t a lack of competing yesterday, it was probably getting too uptight, too wound up.

What more could you want to see out of him right now? 

Caboclo may be just 18, but he's working his tail off to learn a new language while adjusting to an entirely new—and entirely more difficult—brand of basketball. He's figuring out how to play with new teammates, and he's simultaneously learning how to function as an adult, or at least a young man suddenly thrust into an adult lifestyle. 

But the passion isn't being sapped out of him. Not even a tiny bit, and that's perhaps the best sign of all when it comes to the future of this lanky forward who displayed more advanced skills than expected throughout his handful of Vegas outings. 

Can the Raptors Use Him? 

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 16:  Bruno Caboclo #5 of the Toronto Raptors handles the ball against the Houston Rockets on July 16, 2014 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and
Jack Arent/Getty Images

Is it possible that Caboclo could go from four years away to contributing during the 2014-15 season in only a matter of months? 

Unequivocally, the answer is yes. 

"Ujiri says Caboclo will be on on Raptors roster in 2014-15," reports E. Carchia for Sportando.com.

Now it's worth noting that being on the roster doesn't mean he'll be on the NBA roster. Ujiri, according to Carchia, also noted that the small forward could very well be spending some time in the D-League, learning the NBA-style game against lesser competition. It's logical, but how long can they realistically hold him down if he's continuing to develop and can actually make an impact?

Toronto still needs big wings to avoid being terribly undersized against some teams, and Caboclo certainly qualifies, as Michael Pina makes clear for SportsonEarth.com:

His physical make-up is that of a humongous baby preying mantis. 6-foot-8 with a 7-7 wingspan (for comparison's sake, Kawhi Leonard's wingspan is listed at 7-foot-3). He can easily tie his shoes without bending his knees, and has the potential to wipe out any and every passing lane when the ball swings from one side of the court to the other.  

Currently, the Raptors don't have anyone like that on the roster.

Here's what they're working with at the wing positions (heights from Basketball-Reference.com, wingspans from DraftExpress.com):  

Toronto Wing Size
Bruno Caboclo*6'9"7'7"
DeAndre Daniels*6'8"7'2"
DeMar DeRozan6'7"6'9"
Landry Fields6'7"6'9.5"
James Johnson6'9"7'0.75"
Terrence Ross6'6"6'7.25"
*Rookie, so both numbers coming from DraftExpress.com.

Not one player on the roster brings length like Caboclo's to the table, and that can be advantageous to have on the bench, particularly when the key rotation members are largely undersized or close to it. For that reason alone, the 18-year-old will be given a chance during his true rookie season.

And just think about how impressive that is. 

In no time at all, Caboclo has gone from being a complete unknown to someone who could make an impact—however small—on one of the more competitive teams in the Eastern Conference. That's not a feat to take lightly, especially since it makes the Brazilian prospect the latest—potentially, at least—to shatter his time frame. 

Last year, we saw Giannis Antetokounmpo do away with the "raw" labels to make an immediate impact, and he looks like a potential star now. Two years ago, it was Andre Drummond proving that, if he were a steak, he would be more well-done than rare. 

Young prospects are starting to prove that developments can be sped up more than ever. Caboclo is hoping to become the latest example, showing once and for all that you can't ever think a player is too far removed from making serious contributions. 

I'm sure the Raptors won't mind. 

How long do you think it'll take Bruno Caboclo to make an impact for the Toronto Raptors? Let me know on Twitter and Facebook. 


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