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Bruno Caboclo Is Finally Ready For The NBA

Writer Dakota Schmidt breaks down RGV Vipers forward Bruno Caboclo’s on-court play and explains why he’s finally ready for the NBA.

Houston Rockets Media Day Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

With the 20th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, the Toronto Raptors selected young Brazilian forward Bruno Caboclo. Shortly after Adam Silver announced that selection to the astonishment of the basketball world, ESPN’s NBA Draft guru Fran Fraschilla appeared on the Worldwide Leader’s live telecast to give his take about the young prospect.

Although he did touch on how the 6’9 prospect was incredibly athletic, most of Fraschilla’s analysis was centered around how raw Caboclo was and that the Raptors pick was likely 3-4 years away from being part of the team’s rotation. That last part was hammered into the brains of the viewers as he spouted a line about Caboclo being “two years away from being two years away”.

While that statement did a lot to temper the excitement around Caboclo, it was accurate as the 6’9 player struggled to get on the court during his first four years at the NBA level. In that time, he played just 116 minutes with the Raptors before being traded to the Sacramento Kings on February 8th, 2018 in exchange for Malachi Richardson.

Although he actually received some playing time with the new squad as he averaged 10 minutes in the 10 games he played, the forward struggled as he put up 2.6 points and 2.1 rebounds on 31% from the field. Unsurprisingly, the Kings decided to part ways with Caboclo after the end of the season as they decided to non-tender his qualifying offer which allowed the young veteran to be an unrestricted free agent.

More than one month later, the Rockets signed Caboclo to an Exhibit 10 deal on August 17th. Exhibit 10 attachment meant that Houston could decide to transform that contract into a two-way deal from then until the start of the NBA regular season. However, if he got waived, Caboclo could still get $50,000 if he spent 90 days with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, their G League affiliate.

Unfortunately for the young forward, the second option is what actually occurred as the Rockets waived him on October 13th, just three days before the start of the 2018-19 NBA regular season.

Although Caboclo was probably disappointed after getting waived by the Rockets, it definitely didn’t seem to affect him when he started to play with the RGV Vipers. In fact, those struggles he battled in those initial three years seemed to help Caboclo become a more focused player on both ends of the court. In fact, the 6’9 forward might stand as the most well-rounded player in the G League as he’s averaging 16 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.1 steals and 3 blocks on 51% from the field and 42% from beyond the arc on 5.6 attempts per game.

From an offensive perspective, Caboclo has impressed mostly due to his perimeter shooting. Prior to this year, he was regarded as an average long range threat as he shot 34% from 3 on 6.9 attempts per game during his time with the Raptors 905/Reno Bighorns in the 2017-18 G League season. That 3-point percentage in 17-18 was pretty consistent with how he was during his first two years with the 905 where he shot 33% in back-to-back seasons.

With that consistent perimeter mediocrity in mind, it’s extremely impressive to see Caboclo be able to immediately turn the corner and become one of the best 3-point shooters in the G League.

This new found efficiency is largely due to Caboclo’s confidence in the catch-and-shoot. In those situations, he looks in complete control as the 6’9 forward does a great job of setting his lower and upper body before he receives the pass. Once he does, the Vipers forward is quickly able to retrieve the pass and jack up a smooth perimeter jumper.

In addition to perimeter shooting, he’s also able to shine as an offensive rebounder, on-ball driver and in the low-post. In regards to that first trait, the 6’9 forward is averaging a career-best 2.4 offensive rebounds per game.

Caboclo is able to maintain that solid average through utilizing the combination of good awareness and athleticism. That awareness allows him to know what position to be in to go for the rebound after the ball careens off the rim. Meanwhile, the quickness and athleticism helps him when it comes to running to the paint and going up for put-back slams.

Alongside putback slams, another way that Caboclo’s quickness is helpful is a forward that can either cut to the paint or make on-ball drives. As a roll man, Caboclo is a great target as a bigger target with soft hands that can go up for alley-oop slams. Meanwhile, he shows some upside as a driver as he shows some nice moves for a player his size. The below clip is a solid example of that as he uses a smooth spin move to create separation from Chris Wright and get an open layup.

While Caboclo has been a solid offensive weapon for the RGV Vipers, the 23-year-old might be a favorite to be the G League’s Defensive Player of the Year.. His success on this end is evident from a statistical perspective as he’s currently averaging 2.9 blocks and 1.3 steals per game. That kind of great production puts him in rare company as Bucks forward Christian Wood and Mavericks rookie Ray Spalding are the only players that have averaged 1 steal and 2 blocks per game in G League play.

In addition to those per game averages, Caboclo’s impact on defense is also evident from how opponents are 10 points per 100 possessions worse when he’s on the court (94.9 points per 100) compared to when he’s sitting on the sidelines (105.2 points per 100).

Although those base stats & On/Off ratios are solid, it’s hard to understand his great work on defense until you actually watch him play. When you look away from the stats, you’d get a chance to see a versatile force on this side of the court as Caboclo can switch on pick-and-rolls, guard multiple positions, protect the rim or work as a helpside defender. Versatility is probably the biggest strength of his defense as he’s shown a knack of being able to effectively defend point guards to power forwards.

That rare skill was recently evident in RGV’s game against the Santa Cruz Warriors as he was able to do everything from stopping guards Darius Morris and Kendrick Nunn from driving to the rim to preventing 249 pound forward Marcus Derrickson from muscling down in the low-post to get an open hook shot.

While those two instances are definitely impressive, the clip below is the best example of Caboclo’s defense from that Warriors game as he plays tremendous defense on Damion Lee before using every millimeter of his 7’7 wingspan to block the Santa Cruz’s guard step-back jumper.

In addition to his versatility, Caboclo also has a solid defensive IQ as he’s able to recognize the right time to work as a help defender and try to attack the scoring threat or just stick on his man. The 6’9 forward was brilliantly able to do both of that in this play from a recent Vipers game against the Texas Legends.

Immediately after Jameel Warney receives the pass, Caboclo does a great job of helping guide the opposing big towards the paint where Dakarai Tucker is waiting to bravely take a charge from the 260 pound forward. Moments before a collision can take place, Warney stops and hits an open CJ Leslie with a bounce pass. Amazingly, Caboclo is able to immediately recognize that that exchange is going to take place as he’s able to get to Leslie before the Legends forward goes up for a shot. That immediate recognition and quick feet pay off as he lays a clean block on the attempted dunk from Leslie.

When he got waived by the Houston Rockets on October 13th, it definitely seemed like hope of Caboclo having a sustainable future in the NBA seemed to have evaporated. That loss of optimism made sense he was unable to crack the Raptors rotation despite being with the team for four years and struggled mightily during a short stint with the Kings. With younger forwards entering the league through the draft and thus taking open roster spots, it seemed like Caboclo’s NBA window was closed.

Although hope seemed mostly lost, Caboclo was able to overcome and improve in every discernable way when he got allocated to the RGV Vipers.

From an offensive perspective, the Brazilian forward made tremendous strides as a shooter as he progressed from being a mediocre perimeter threat to shooting an impressive 42% from beyond the arc on 5.8 attempts per game. That improved perimeter shot combined with his solid work as a roll man and post-up threat has allowed Caboclo to be a solid offensive weapon. On the other end of the court, he’s a favorite to win the league’s Defensive Player of the Year because of an ability to guard multiple positions and be a tremendous rim protector.

After using his time with the RGV Vipers to grow as a player and become a fantastic 3-and-D threat, the next step in his career has to be getting signed by an NBA team to a 10-day deal. While some NBA teams may be weary to sign Caboclo after his struggles with Sacramento and Toronto, there’s no question that he’s since made tremendous strides as a player. With those strides in mind, Caboclo could definitely fit into a team’s 2nd unit as a lanky 3-and-D threat.

Will Bruno Caboclo ever reach the lofty expectations of the 2014 NBA Draft when he was nicknamed “the Brazilian Kevin Durant”? Probably not. However, in his 5th season as a pro athlete, it seems that the prospect that was two years away from being two years away is finally ready to be on an NBA roster.