Raptors pull off NBA draft shocker, selecting Bruno Caboclo
Raptors GM Masai Ujiri talks about the coming NBA draft during a media availabilty. Toronto will pick 20th in the first round on Thursday night. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/Toronto Sun)
Say this about Masai Ujiri. He does not play it safe.
With Brampton’s Tyler Ennis going two picks before the Toronto pick at No. 20, the Raptors general manager turned the NBA draft on its ear selecting Brazilian small forward Bruno Caboclo, a 6-foot-9, 205-pounder who it’s safe to say did not make any of the mock drafts you may have perused these past couple of months.
Plan A, according to head coach Dwane Casey was to take Ennis at 20 and then get Caboclo with the 37th overall pick.
But with Ennis gone and word out that other teams were considering Caboclo, the decision was made to go directly with the Brazilian at 20.
“Bruno was the guy,” Casey said. “He was going to be our guy anyway, along with Tyler. Tyler didn’t happen. He’s going to be a tremendous prospect in this league. Bruno is an athletic phenomenon. At 20, you’re not going to get a perfect player, but this young man has a chance to hit it big. He’s raw. But he’s going to be a guy that is going to develop in our program, grow and do a lot of things for us. Defensively, he’s long. He covers a lot of ground down in a stance. He blocks shots with his length.”
Ujiri, according to Casey, was in Brazil on three separate occasions to see Caboclo in person. Casey got his one and only look at the Brazilian just last week when the coach led a Raptors contingent down to Houston where they had him work out again.
“Caboclo, who doesn’t turn 19 until September is listed as a reserve on Brazil’s first division club Pinheiros /Sky,” a bio reads. “He was the MVP of the Basketball Without Borders tournament in Buenos Aires this year. He was the youngest player available in the draft.
Beyond that not much more is known about him.
The pick was met with stunned silence in the Raptors’ media workroom. In Brooklyn, ESPN’s international scouting expert Fran Fraschilla raved about Caboclo’s raw talent but said he was “two years away from being two years away.”
Casey said the Raptors would immediately send Caboclo out to L.A., where the likes of DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, and Amir Johnson are working out with some of the team’s coaches.
Casey said Caboclo’s potential trumped everything else left on the draft board at No. 20.
“There were some other guys on the board, but with this young man’s potential I don’t think the other guys left on the board had potential as high as Bruno and that was the deciding factor for us,” he said. “Again he’s a young man that all these other guys are probably more polished just because they have come through the system so to speak but this young man as far as potential is ahead of where they are going to be. His ceiling is higher than some of those other guys.”
It was 10 years ago that the Raptors last selected a first-round pick out of Brazil and that one didn’t work out so well. His name, you will recall was Rafael Araujo, and then-GM Rob Babcock’s pick was roundly criticized.
Araujo went No. 8 that year.
Ironically Araujo, whose NBA career sputtered for three years before it fizzled out, is still playing and does so on the same Pinheiros/Sky team that Caboclo played for this past season.
Both Caboclo and Araujo were listed as reserves on the first division Brazilian team.
For a while there it looked like Ujiri might draft the first Canadian in team history until the Phoenix Suns spoiled the party and selected Syracuse point guard Ennis at No. 18.
At that point, the thinking was Ujiri would turn to one of a handful of needs. There was rim protector Clint Capela out of Switzerland, who the Raptors had brought in among the 60 or so players they worked out.
There was also K.J. McDaniels, a small forward with solid defensive credentials there or even shooting guard Rodney Hood out of Duke. If it were a point guard the Raptors had targeted ,there was Shabazz Napier of the NCAA champion UConn Huskies.
But Ujiri opted to go with the rather raw, although reportedly ultra-athletic Caboclo.
“He’s probably one of the most athletic guys in the draft,” Casey said. “As a matter of fact, I know he is, as far as his length, quickness, his speed.”
Caboclo was on his way to Toronto Friday morning and will be made available to the media on Saturday.
PLANS FALL THROUGH
To suggest the first round didn’t go quite according to plan for the Raptors would be an understatement.
According to GM Masai Ujiri the Raptors were aggressively in on picks from 15 through their own at 20 and beyond that but one by one they all fell through.
When Ennis went at 18, the Raps made the decision that rather than lose the No. 2 guy on their board in Bruno Caboclo, they would take him at 20 and live with the consequences.
“With these things you start to hear different things and it’s so hard to trade to get picks. When you start to hear the guy could be gone — we started to hear late first round, — sometimes it gets frustrating where you don’t get the picks and you wind up losing the guy. That happened to us earlier so we felt OK, if he is second on our board, then let’s get aggressive.”
Ujiri acknowledged his pick won’t pay immediate dividends.
“He’s a few years away but he’s a talent that I think at the end of the day we will be happy that we picked.”
He knows we are going to develop him and we’re going to take our time. Sometimes these guys are picked too high and the expectations are higher. It’s going to take some time with Bruno but when you guys see him you will feel the excitement that we feel.”
Ujiri clearly understood the pick would not be a popular one with the fan base initially.
“For me I said I would go with the best talent available and we did our due diligence. I was in Brazil three times. Our scouts went a few times so we felt comfortable,” Ujiri said. “I’m not here trying to be popular. That’s not what I’m here for . I’m looking out for the organization long term and I think long term we will look at Bruno and say at least he has a chance as a young player to develop with this ball club.”