When the Toronto Raptors selected Bruno Caboclo with the 20th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, the immediate reaction on Twitter was a mixture of shock, confusion and criticism. Most NBA teams didn’t even know about the lanky Brazilian, let alone the average fan. The quote heard ’round the world came from Fran Fraschilla, who said that Caboclo is “two years away from being two years away” during ESPN’s Draft coverage.
Off the board, to say the least. The initial coverage in the press reflected that sort of cautious skepticism; Doug Smith called Caboclo a “gamble”, while Eric Koreen referred to the pick as “one of the weirdest in first-round history”.
Comparisons to former Raptor Rafael Araujo were almost too easy to make : another raw Brazilian whom the Raptors took, much to most people’s surprise. The fact that Araujo was a clear-cut bust doesn’t help to calm any fears about Caboclo’s place in the NBA.
But a funny thing happened in the days following the Draft. First came Caboclo’s (short) workout at the Raptors practice facility, and all of a sudden, seemingly, everyone was on board with Masai Ujiri’s decision to draft “Bruno”.
- Ryan Wolstat, Toronto Sun – “[F]ormer NBA executive of the year Masai Ujiri, widely regarded as one of the finest basketball minds on the planet, the guy that pulled off a couple of heists for the Raptors in his first year and did some fine work in Denver before that, probably knows what he is doing, no?”
- Doug Smith, Toronto Star – “No one knows whether or not the kid can play, no one’s seen him in person, you cannot tell anything from a grainy youtube clip and maybe it’s just best to trust the GM who has seen him and knows a bit more than you or I.”
- Eric Koreen, National Post – “In a few years time, Ujiri is going to look like a genius or he’s going to seem pretty silly…Still, even if Raptors fans hate the pick, they should admire the process.”
I get the general notion. For one, getting a solid asset at 20 is rare to begin with, so why not go for the home run? And two, given Ujiri’s track record, writers aren’t going to jump to criticize the GM who has already done fine work with the Raptors (after a solid stint in Denver).
But that doesn’t mean criticism and skepticism should be erased by one workout, which might be an inaccurate way to look at it, but is how it looks from the outside. “Bruno”, as he will (hopefully unanimously) be referred to hereafter, is just as “raw” as he was on the night of the draft. Nobody knows if (or how well) he’ll pan out, and just as it would be ignorant to assume the worst, it’s also ignorant to assume the best. I’m not sure Raptors fans will care about the “process”, as Koreen calls it, if Bruno turns into another Araujo.
And as far as Bruno’s development is concerned, there’s a small elephant in the room that nobody seems to be talking about, which is that the Raptors, a team that should be gathering pieces to take a step towards being a perennial contender, chose a “project” player instead of an “instant impact” player. Ujiri is obviously confident enough in the Brazilian to pass over guys like Shabazz Napier, K.J. McDaniels or Clint Capela, all of whom could have helped the team this year. DeMar DeRozan recently stated that the Raptors are “one or two pieces” away from the next level; given the overall weakness of the East, it’s hard to argue. All the more reason to question the draft choice.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I think Masai Ujiri shouldn’t be trusted – I mean, the man managed to get a real basketball player in return for Andrea Bargnani – but it would be foolish to assume nothing but the best, just as it would be foolish to assume the worst.
Let it play out, fine. But given how the Raptors have drafted in the past, a general sense of skepticism is more than justified.