LAS VEGAS -- Through the first three exhibitions of his all-too-mysterious NBA career, very little about Toronto Raptors rookie Bruno Caboclo's on-court performance has been impressive.
The release on his jumper flicks quicker than a light switch -- Bruno made both his threes against the Los Angeles Lakers in his debut, finishing with 12 points on seven shots -- but he can't help but resemble a wandering infant in just about every area.
Defensive rotations are a mess, he struggles to properly space the floor on offense (against the Dallas Mavericks, a teammate turned the ball over throwing it to an empty corner where Bruno was supposed to be standing) and you can probably count his total number of dribbles on two hands and two feet. Needless to say, he doesn't create for others or attack the rim. There weren't any timely cuts, either. But none of this should be a real worry for Raptors brass. Caboclo is 18 years old with a pair of first-base gloves for hands and easily the longest arms I've ever seen in person. Toronto still has someone very special to work with to work.
For all the basketball mistakes -- and constant "deer in the headlights" facial expressions -- Bruno was introduced to the world as the "Brazilian Kevin Durant," which sounds like something basketball fans might be interested in. ESPN's Fran Fraschilla infamously declared he was "two years away from being two years away" as an NBA contributor, combining high expectations with the need for patience. It also helped give berth to the rarest prospect in recent memory; in many ways, Bruno is the last of a dying breed.
We live in an era of information addiction, never-ending, 24/7/365 scouting reports where people criticize newborn babies for misdiagnosing pick-and-roll coverage. We want to know everything about hopeful NBA talent long before its old enough to actually produce. Bruno eluded it all, making his future an especially beautiful secret and his present an exciting puzzle.
His physical make-up is that of a humongous baby preying mantis. 6-foot-8 with a 7-7 wingspan (for comparison's sake, Kawhi Leonard's wingspan is listed at 7-foot-3). He can easily tie his shoes without bending his knees, and has the potential to wipe out any and every passing lane when the ball swings from one side of the court to the other.
Bruno has unparalleled potential as an on-ball defender, too, and he's still growing. Toronto's coaching staff is already tinkering with the limits of his versatility, sticking him on Denver Nuggets shooting guard Gary Harris (6-foot-4) and power forward Quincy Miller (6-foot-10) in their game on Saturday.
"He's got great feet and unbelievable God-given length, and so putting him on Gary Harris is going to make him better for our [next game]," Raptors assistant coach Jesse Mermuys said. "That's a tough guard, he's smaller he's quicker. And so teaching him how to use that length. How to fight through screens. There's a physicality he's going to have to learn and he needs to develop. Switching matchups and letting him use his length and size is only going to help him in the future."
But forget about mastering the complex nature of an NBA defense, the Brazilian Caboclo doesn't even speak English. He's unable to communicate with teammates and coaches, or even recognize when he's making a mistake and how to correct it.
"He's taking English [classes] during his off time, and we don't have a lot of off time," Mermuys said. "To the naked eye it's just basketball, but when you coach and play in the NBA you understand how technical it is. There are a lot of terms, coverages, terminology; it's going to be a process for any young player, especially one who can't speak English. We're throwing a lot at him and we're throwing it on purpose."
Harris scored 33 points with Bruno draped over him for a majority of the 19 shots it took to get there. It was a constant defensive struggle, but flashes of the future shined through. On one particular play, he picked Harris' pocket at mid-court, eventually drawing a foul at the other end and getting to the free-throw line. He constantly reached and gambled, but fought hard through screens and showcased relentless energy. His close-outs on the perimeter were over-aggressive, but this will be a devastating part of his game once he learns how to control those endless arms and legs.
Nearly every time a teammate launched a shot, Bruno flew in from the corner to try and grab an offensive rebound. That sort of thing won't work in the NBA (where transition defense is an absolute priority), but aggressive fearlessness is always nice to see.
Late in the fourth quarter of Toronto's blowout loss against Denver, Caboclo crumpled to the baseline trying to block a dunk attempt from Harris. From the sideline, a Raptors assistant coach barked "HELP HIM UP" to no one in particular, and a few players scurried over to offer a hand. The team doesn't know exactly what they have, just that he can be special, and they treat him that way.
Bruno may never become a franchise player, but few 20th overall picks ever do. Few prospects enter the league with his end-to-end ceiling, and it'll take much longer than four years for him to get there. But take one glance at that wingspan and it's easy to see how Bruno will help Toronto win a lot of games until that time comes.