Toronto Raptors fans were hoping for another Bruno Caboclo sighting against the Celtics last Saturday night. The Raptors were up big and there were less than two minutes remaining in the game, usually the time coach Dwane Casey summons the rookie from the bench and inserts him into the game. The late game court time in a game already decided has really been the only court time Caboclo has been given this year. Fans are excited to find out what Caboclo has to offer, but to be fair, it’s been really hard to tell much of anything about the young Brazilian. His scouting reports are more wishful thinking than fact. To the fans in Toronto, Caboclo remains an enigma.
When Bruno Caboclo was drafted 20th overall by the Toronto Raptors this past summer an ESPN draft analyst famously dubbed the Brazilian forward “two years away from being two years away”. After playing sparse minutes in only 3 NBA games this season and a handful of D-league minutes that assessment continues to be accurate. As the season nears it’s unofficial halfway point it remains unclear where or when fans will get to see Caboclo playing basketball next.
Raptor fans, excited every time he takes the court, have tempered their expectations of what Caboclo is going to be able to accomplish in the short-term. It is clear he possesses talent and could eventually develop into something special, in the mould of Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, but it’s going to take a while and there aren’t any minutes for Caboclo on a team in the thick of an Eastern Conference playoff push.
The Antetokounmpo comparison is a troubling one. While Antetokounmpo and Caboclo are both close in age, came out of relative obscurity and possess great physical gifts with their long wingspan and athletic abilities, Antetokounmpo was given an opportunity in Milwaukee that Caboclo will not be given here in Toronto.
Antetokounmpo was given time on the court to learn and mature. He was matched up against stiff opposition and given the opportunity to learn on the job. Ujiri and coach Casey have not been overly concerned with giving Caboclo much game action this season. They said as much at the very beginning of the season, opting to instead give Caboclo the opportunity to work and practice with the team and learn the Raptors system without the pressure of trying to prove himself. He currently only sees game action in the “garbage time” minutes of “garbage time”. The plan, though vastly different from the blueprint Milwaukee used with Antetokounmpo, has worked well. Caboclo is fitting in with the group in Toronto, he has accepted his small role on the very end of the bench and has earned some praise from his teammates and coaches for his work ethic as well as the adoration of the ACC crowd.
That’s why the recent handling of Caboclo over the last few weeks has been so confusing. He was sent down to Fort Wayne on Christmas day, presumably to get in some more playing time, but only played inconsistent minutes in three games with the Mad Ants before he was called back to Toronto. The plan for Caboclo is becoming less and less clear. Sending him down was presumably to find Bruno some playing time, but he only averaged 13 MPG and didn’t appear likely to get much more than that if he stayed. Now he is back in Toronto, warming the end of the bench, left to wonder what exactly the team is doing with him. He isn’t going to get minutes here and there are no plans to send him overseas. The Raptors and Caboclo appear to be stuck in a holding pattern.
So what to do with Caboclo?
Is a year watching the NBA from the bench enough for a kid trying to figure out who he is on the court? Is it enough to help him take the next step in his development?
If Caboclo is going to become the next Giannis Antetokounmpo, perhaps an unfair comparison in hindsight, he’s going to have to do it differently than the ‘Greek Freak’ did. Caboclo is going to have to wait and maybe wait a long time before he sees regular consistent playing time. He won’t be given the opportunity to “earn” minutes here and it isn’t clear another D-League stint is imminent nor are the Raptors interested in sending him overseas. Ujiri is on record saying “When a guy goes overseas you don’t get to monitor him as closely, to see if he is getting stronger, to see all of what he is doing,” So that leaves Caboclo watching from the sidelines until Summer League games start-up in July, which cannot possibly be best for his development.
Antetokounmpo needed minutes in Milwaukee; he needed a lot of them. He averaged nearly 25MPG in his first season with the Bucks and he benefited from the experience greatly. This year he is averaging close to 30MPG and is arguably the Bucks best player many nights. There is no way Caboclo will get near that kind of playing time in Toronto, but he could in a different situation. The Bucks are reaping the rewards of Antetokounmpo’s time learning on the job, so could Caboclo not benefit from time in Europe? It worked out for Jonas Valanciunas when he played in Lithuania before arriving in Toronto. It wasn’t the Raptors ideal plan, but it certainly worked out and it worked out because Jonas was able to get more experience on the court and become a more confident player.
Perhaps Bruno would benefit from playing in Brazil or taking what minuscule minutes the D-Leauge has to offer? Something has to be better than nothing, right?
There isn’t an easy answer to the question, but it’s clear the Raptors desire to have complete control over Caboclo’s development outweighs the need to get him minutes on the floor in the D-League. The Raptors unfortunately have to share Fort Wayne with 12 other teams and could really use a minor league team like the ones used in Major League Baseball and the NHL to develop and teach young players. The Raptors obviously feel Bruno is better off close to home as the D-League teams and their coaching staffs do not spend time teaching and developing players the way NBA teams want them to. European clubs are more of the same. It is why the league should look into a minor league development deal for all clubs; an idea that has been floated around by Drew Corrigan of SBNation’s Ridiculous Upside and might be something for the NBA to consider going forward.
For the time being though the Raptors are stuck with trying to make this situation work in the best interests of both Bruno and the franchise. Sadly for fans they are now likely two years away from being two years away from knowing if this plan will work out. Hopefully it will take less time than that to get Bruno significant playing time. So try to enjoy every tiny moment Bruno plays this season, because their won’t be many. Hopefully fans, the Raptors organization and Caboclo all have the patience to see it through.
The Raptors are placing bets that Bruno will ultimately make an impact in the NBA, the path he takes to get there, however, remains unclear.