Raptors Ex-Files: Bruno Caboclo finding playing time in Memphis


Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) shoots against Memphis Grizzlies forward Bruno Caboclo (5) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, in Memphis, Tenn. (Brandon Dill/AP)

NBA playing time. That’s what Bruno Caboclo was two years from being two years away from, apparently.

The former Raptors 905 star and unofficial king of Mississauga appears to have found a home in Memphis in his fifth NBA season, averaging close to 23 minutes per game over four games with the Memphis Grizzlies and celebrating with a block party that included four swats (two of the sick, wicked and nasty variety on Canadian Andrew Wiggins) to go along with seven points, three rebounds and three assists in his last game, on the road against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Incredibly, with at least 22 minutes against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night, Caboclo will have surpassed his entire minutes total during his three-and-a-half seasons in Toronto in just over a week with Memphis.

Bruno Caboclo Games Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks
Toronto 25 113 27 15 6 5 3
Sacramento 10 99 26 21 3 2 4
Memphis 4 92 23 13 4 2 7

How did we get here?

OK, so we know the Bruno experiment — despite his G League championship with the 905 — was a failure. Raptors president Masai Ujiri admitted as much when he traded the 20th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft before the 2017-18 trade deadline for Malachi Richardson from the Sacramento Kings, a franchise that waived him after 10 games.

The Houston Rockets then decided to take the Toronto route and see if he could rebuild his confidence with their G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, and that’s where this comeback story begins.

Averaging G League career-highs in points (16.4), rebounds (7.1), blocks (three!), field goal percentage (51.6) and three-point percentage (42.8) over 28 games (23 starts), Caboclo was screaming for a call-up.

On Jan. 24, Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace announced the signing of Bruno to a 10-day contract from the Vipers. Aided by the fact that Memphis is staring at a fire-sale and a rebuild as they pursue trades for both cornerstones Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, Caboclo will have a lot more leeway in Grind City than he ever did in Toronto.

What pushed the Grizzlies over the line?

Despite the career-highs, those paying attention to Bruno in the league have seen this before. Caboclo has had strong stretches playing for the 905 in the past, but had consistently struggled to carry that play and confidence over to the highest level. Why believe this time could be different?

One person who has played a key role in Bruno’s development the past couple years has been former 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse, and his new role as assistant coach with the Grizzlies proved instrumental once again, Bruno admitting as much when asked about the former 18-year veteran’s influence in bringing him to Memphis.

It’s clear the Brazilian still holds fond memories of his time in Toronto, even dressing his now five-month old baby in Raptors gear when he gets the chance.

Lil Man

2,588 Likes, 68 Comments – Bruno Caboclo (@brunofive) on Instagram: “Lil Man “

Right place at the right time?

Perhaps this is what Bruno needed all along, a team that could give him extended rope and emphasize player development over wins. The now 23-year-old was always looked at as a project, but there was never any margin for error at the NBA level on a perennial playoff team like the Raptors looking to take the next step into title contention.

With Memphis, he can make mistakes, miss shots (currently shooting just 27.8 per cent from three which accounts for 4.5 of his 5.5 field goal attempts per game) and still know that he won’t have to look over his shoulder. Most importantly, he’s hanging his hat on the defensive end and that’s a perfect fit for a franchise that has become synonymous with Grit ‘n Grind.

Moment of truth

The Grizzlies will have the option of extending Bruno to a second 10-day on Feb. 3, but will only have the option of retaining him thereafter by signing him for the rest of the season. Can he keep up the intensity on the defensive end? Can he improve his shooting stroke as he grows more and more comfortable? Have the Grizzlies already made up their mind?

We’ll find out soon enough.

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