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Bruno Caboclo And The Promise Of The Raptors 905

With the Raptors 905 impending debut, we look at the importance that the team will have for both the Raptors and the team's young talent.

Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

When the Raptors picked unknown Brazilian guard Bruno Caboclo with the 20th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, it seemed obvious that the 18 year old forward would become a fixture in the D-League. The correlation between the D-League and Caboclo seemed right, as the youngster only played a year of organized basketball before being drafted. That inexperience combined with Toronto’s status as a top-notch Eastern Conference team created the perfect combination for Caboclo to play in the D-League for the next couple of seasons. However, that mix was missing a singular ingredient: being affiliated with an NBA team.

Going into the 2014-15 season, the Toronto Raptors shared affiliations of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants with 13 other NBA squads. Obviously, that situation wasn’t ideal for the Pacers, or any other NBA team associated with Ft. Wayne, as the team doesn’t have any kind of input on the playing time that their assignee would get.

Toronto quickly learned that lesson with Bruno Caboclo, as the young forward’s time with the Mad Ants fluctuated throughout the season. After putting up 13 points and 7 rebounds in 20 minutes during his D-League debut against Iowa, Caboclo failed to even play 15 minutes during the rest of his time with the Mad Ants. Averaging 8.9 minutes per game, Caboclo only put up 3.1 points and 1.9 rebounds per game.

Caboclo’s struggles with the Mad Ants was also noticed by Mad Ants assistant coach Jaren Jackson. In a May interview with SportsNet Canada, Jackson said the following:

"The experience was tough in Fort Wayne for Bruno, it was," says Jackson, who won a championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 1999. "We didn’t have a one-on-one affiliate like some other teams do, and it meant we had different priorities [than the Raptors]," he says. "We were an experienced team. We had a number of veteran players brought down to us, players who we could throw out there and say ‘Go’ and they could contribute and help us win. But a younger player like Bruno sometimes gets lost on assignments figuring out who he’s supposed to defend, situations like that where he walks away feeling uncomfortable."

"There’s so much upside that I could see immediately why [the Raptors] took him in the draft," Jackson continues, "But he came to us essentially as a college freshman. And so he fits what the D-League is all about: He needs to play in the D-League and evolve as a player, to be able to play through his mistakes."

The Toronto Raptors brass were definitely weary of repeating that scenario, as Masai Ujiri and the Raptors organization announced during the off-season that they acquired a D-League affiliate, in the Raptors 905. Located in the city of Mississauga, the Raptors 905's home base is located 20 miles from downtown Toronto. That would allow the big league club to easily transfer the individual prospects from Toronto to Mississauga, and vice versa. As Ujiri mentioned in an interview with the official NBADL site, the prospects will be able to both practice with the big league club and then head on over to Mississauga to play with the 905.

While the continued development of Caboclo is the main emphasis behind the Raptors 905 during their debut season, there's an array of other players that we could see with the team. The biggest example of that would be former #1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, who was recently signed by the Raptors after being waived by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Even though this would be his third team in a span of three seasons, the 6'8 forward has continued to show flashes of what he was expected to be, whether it would be during preseason or during FIBA Americas. Possessing a stench associated with being a former #1 overall pick that hasn't stayed with an NBA team for over a single calendar year, Bennett should utilize the Raptors 905 to both rebuild his reputation and progress as an on-court player.

Other Raptors players that could potentially play for the Raptors 905 include Lucas Noguiera, Norman Powell, and the undrafted players that the team has on non-guaranteed deals (Axel Toupane, Shannon Scott and Michale Kyser). Like Caboclo, Nogueira is still very much of a project as he only played a total of 23 minutes during his rookie season with the Raptors. Despite that, the Raptors mainly held Nogueira away from the Mad Ants as he only played four games with the team. The transition over to the 905 should benefit Nogueira as the 7-footer will be able to continue to develop more of an offensive game that can coincide with his work on the defensive end.

Another defensive-minded player that could look to the D-League to help improve on the other end of the floor is former UCLA guard Norman Powell. The 46th pick in this year's draft, Powell was one of the Pac 12's most entertaining players due to his defense and sheer athleticism, which allowed him to be drafted despite his struggles as both a shooter and facilitator. Working with Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys, who he worked with during Summer League, Powell should immediately become one of the more entertaining players in the D-League when he's with the Raptors 905.

Aside from the players that are under guaranteed deals (Caboclo, Powell and Nogueira), there are a crop of players that will look to use the 905 to showcase their skills to make on the Raptors or any other NBA squad. The biggest name of the bunch is Shannon Scott, who was D'Angelo Russell's back-court partner at Ohio State. During his time with the Buckeyes, Scott was known for his his skills as a facilitator and perimeter defender. Averaging 5.4 assists with a 2.48 assist to turnover ratio, Scott was one of the best facilitators in the 2015 draft. Alongside that, Scott developed a reputation as an elite defender, which was evident by him averaging 1.7 steals per game during his senior season.

Speaking of defensive-minded players, former Louisiana Tech forward Michale Kyser will look to bring his college success over to the NBADL. In a way that's really comparable to former D-League All-Star Chris Wright, Kyser's game on both ends of the floor rests behind having a high motor and terrific athleticism. Throughout his entire college career, Kyser was looked at as an elite shot blocker as he averaged 2.7 blocks during his time at Louisiana Tech. That performance allowed him to be named to the Conference USA All-Defensive team in both 2014 and 2015. While he isn't exactly skilled on the offensive end, Kyser can produce due to his athleticism and ability on the offensive glass (averaged 2.0 offensive rebounds during his four-year career at Louisiana Tech).

The most intriguing player out of the bunch is French wing Axel Toupane, While there's limited tape on the 6'7 Toupane, it seems like a well-rounded player that can cut to the paint, hit the ocassional jumper, work in transition and compete on the defensive end.  While the Raptors got a close look at him during Vegas Summer League, a spot with the 905 should give both the organization and fans a better look at Toupane.

Even before the start of the D-League draft, the Raptors 905 should have an intriguing core of players for their inaugural season. While that base of players should entertain the Mississauga audience, the more important aspect of the 905, or any other NBADL team, is developing prospects that could become potential role players or starters for the parent club. After years spent sharing affiliates with other NBA squads, the Raptors are finally able to fully utilize the NBADL as a tool to develop their talent.

For both the Toronto Raptors and the Raptors 905 this inaugural season is extremely crucial for a variety of ways. Undoubtedly the biggest reason deals with Bruno Caboclo, who looks to get his development back on track after a disappointing rookie season. In Masai Ujiri's aforementioned interview with the NBADL, the Raptors GM stated the following on what he expects from Caboclo this year:

He will definitely be playing, whether it’s with the Raptors or whether it’s with 905. That I can guarantee at least. He’s going to get tired next year because he’s going be practicing with the big team and then playing on the small team. That’s how we envision it.

But you never know; you don’t know how much he will develop, too. and how fast. This year we developed him a lot, getting stronger, getting bigger and learning the NBA life, and now it’s time to play. That was one of the reasons we’re very appreciative to our ownership for taking this leap.

Although the goal of giving the young talent the necessary playing time for them to be able to improve and progress their game seems obvious, it's finally a possibility for the Toronto Raptors. That singular opportunity that the team finally should not only pay dividends for this year but for many ears to come.