After getting selected by the Raptors in the 2014 NBA Draft, ESPN NBA Draft expert Fran Fraschilla stated that Bruno Caboclo was "two years away from being two years away". Although that statement might have been taken with a negative connotation, the move was an example of the Raptors' pursuit of "low risk, high reward" players.
For Caboclo, that journey was quickly off to a bumpy ride as the Brazilian forward was stuck in a state of basketball purgatory. As the Raptors were sharing the Fort Wayne Mad Ants with 13 other squads, they really didn't have any control over how much playing time that Caboclo got in the D-League. Averaging 8.9 MPG in just 7 games, Caboclo never got an opportunity to even get a taste of what it's like to compete against solid NBADL competition.
That lack of playing time was explained, by then-Mad Ants assistant coach Jaren Jackson in an interview with SportsNet Canada:
"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."
Weary of repeating those same problems, Masai Ujiri and the Raptors acquired their own NBADL affiliate, in the Raptors 905. Located in Mississauga, 20 minutes away from downtown Toronto, the Raptors' brass would easily be able to keep track of Caboclo's day-by-day developments in the D-League.
Those developments became positive for Caboclo and the Raptors organization, as he had a solid 2015-16 campaign. In a vastly improved 34 minutes per game, Caboclo put up 14.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game on 40% from the field and 33% from beyond the arc. Although those numbers aren't exactly awe-inspiring, it's impressive for a player that only played 355 minutes of organized ball (international, college, NBADL, NBA) before this season.
For being such an inexperienced player, it was notable to see how comfortable Caboclo appeared on both ends of the floor. That was extremely evident on the offensive end as Caboclo acted as the "swiss army knife" of the Raptors 905. With a wide array of offensive skills: cutting, perimeter shooting, crashing the boards and facilitating.
Caboclo's defining skill is currently as an on-ball cutter, as 40% of his shots came from inside the inside the paint. He was extremely efficient from inside the restricted area, as he shot 71%. The Raptors forward was able to accomplish such efficiency due to the combination of his solid speed and incredible length.
In a similar mold to Giannis Antetokounmpo, Caboclo moves to the paint like a gazelle, as he can move from the perimeter to the paint in around 2-3 steps. Alongside that, his 7'7 wingspan has allows him to finish in ways that most players aren't able to. Even when he's not able to speed past his guy, Caboclo has some impressive handles which allows him to work past an opponent as he cuts to the basket. As evident in the play below, Caboclo is able to use a pretty spin move to maneuver his way past an inside defender and get an easy dunk.
Although Caboclo's offensive game is headlined by his ability as a cutter, his developing ability as a shooter could push him from being a solid prospect to a bonafide stud. That progression was apparent over the course of the season. He closed the season shooting 33% from 3, Caboclo actually shot 36% from beyond the arc once the calendar turned to 2016.
That improvement was due to Caboclo perfecting his shooting stroke. He's showcased an ability to either shoot off-the-dribble or off catch-and-shoots. Particularly with his work off-the-dribble, Caboclo can become a dangerous offensive weapon combined with his ability as a cutter.
No matter how skilled Caboclo becomes on the offensive end, his bread and butter will always be on the defensive end. Standing at 6'9 with a 7'7 wingspan and supreme athleticism, Caboclo has the kind of body that NBA teams can only dream about. The reasoning behind that is that Caboclo's frame gives coaches an opportunity to put him at multiple positions. While he worked mainly as a small forward, Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys slotted Caboclo him in as a power forward and even as a center over the course of the 2015-16 season.
Bruno Caboclo was able to effectively utilize that frame and athleticism on the defensive end, as he averaged 1.8 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. Those 1.8 blocks per game put Caboclo 8th among D-Leaguers. An example of those defensive skills is evident in the clip below as Caboclo sticks with a cutting James Ennis until he's able to use his incredible 7'7 wingspan to make the clean block.
For a player with such limited experience, Caboclo showcases incredible defensive fundamentals. Looking past his ability to make the big block or steal, Caboclo showcases tremendous defensive awareness. Caboclo was able to quickly recognize where he was on the court and what he needed to do. That awareness was evident as Mermuys was comfortable with implementing Caboclo as the team's free safety, allowing him to create all kinds of chaos. Those risks paid off, as opponents average 5 points per 100 possessions less when Caboclo was on the court (103.1) compared to when he was on the bench (108.7).
The improvements that Caboclo made over the course of the season with the 905 has made it not so far-fetched to think that he can become a contributor to the Raptors next season. In an interview with SportsNet's Blake Murphy, Coach Jesse Mermuys said the following about that possibility:
"So much can happen in an NBA summer, but absolutely," Mermuys says. "He's moved himself so much further along. It's not like where it was, where there's no way you could put him in a game. It's not out of the question that he could go into a game and possibly impact a game with his length and his shooting."
Realistically, Mermuys' statements seem to be more optimistic than realistic at this point While he made some huge strides during the 2015-16 season, Caboclo still needs to gain some more playing time before you'd be comfortable with become a member of the big league club's rotation. Despite the solid play, Caboclo still had his issues with trying to stay out of foul trouble, as he committed 3.7 fouls per game. A lot of those issues rests on Caboclo's lack of experience, as he still had mental lapses which is pretty common in young players.
Caboclo's still definitely a work in progress but I don't think even the most hopeful person would expect him to already be this solid. Caboclo's sheer ability to stand out as one of the NBADL's best forwards in 2015-16 is a huge accomplishment. In a span of 12 months, Caboclo went from getting DNP's with the Mad Ants to averaging 16.7 points and 7.6 boards post All-Star break.
With that kind of progress, it would seem only right for Caboclo to have NBA aspirations in the near future.