Bruno Caboclo’s time has come. Well, from a narrative standpoint, at least.
Four years ago, after the Toronto Raptors took Caboclo with the 20th pick, Fran Fraschilla gave a line when describing the 18-year-old’s NBA-readiness that has followed him since: “He’s two years away from being two years away”.
In the years that followed, Fraschilla’s statement seemed spot on. Caboclo played sparingly for the Raptors, registering only 113 minutes total across four seasons. Fans snickered and ironically chanted his name late in blowouts, while jokes based on Fraschilla’s projection became more common in Toronto than a Demar Derozan pump-fake.
Fast forward to present day, and Caboclo isn’t that same bright-eyed, bushy-tailed kid anymore. He’s no longer inexperienced in elite basketball to the point of looking visibly overwhelmed on an NBA court.
He’s 22 now, he’s sprouted up to around 7-feet, and his Mo Bamba-esque, 7’9 wingspan would probably have been enough to get him drafted by the Orlando Magic had he been eligible this year. But it isn’t just his potential that caught Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey’s attention.
This past season, Caboclo finally began to look the part in the G-League, as he set career highs in everything from per 36 numbers to PER during his time with the Raptors 905. His play even earned him a two-month tryout with the Sacramento Kings that looked promising at times, but ultimately fizzled out.
However, considering that Caboclo is still far from a complete player, a tanking Sacramento team that was unsure of how to use him isn’t exactly the perfect fit. Luckily for both Caboclo and Rockets fans, Houston is.
The main area where Caboclo undoubtedly fits is defense. As has been well documented, the Rockets have an institutional fascination with switching pick and rolls. Per Second Spectrum’s tracking data, last season they led the league by switching 1,406 of them.
That sounds like a lot until you give it context-- then it becomes ridiculous. Their 1,406 switches were almost 400 more than the second-placed Golden State Warriors and more than double 20 of the leagues 30 teams. In fact, the Lakers were the only other team to even surpass 800!
So where does Caboclo fit into all this?
Well, while fans were snickering, Caboclo used his absurd physical traits to turn himself into a borderline all-defensive player in the G-League, with the best part of his game being-- you guessed it—switching the pick and roll.
Caboclo’s wiry arms and nimble-enough feet allowed him to swallow up enough G-League guards on switches to rank him above the 90th percentile in defensive efficiency in each of last two seasons when is defending the ball handler in pick-and-roll (per Synergy Sports). For those who doubt how well that will translate to the league, consider Caboclo finished in the 97th percentile for overall defensive efficiency during his Sacramento stint.
His value isn’t just on the ball either. This season, Caboclo posted solid block and steal rates, as his go-go-gadget arms allow him to clog passing lanes and alter shots when he’s seemingly out of position. Caboclo’s presence off-ball could serve as an effective weapon to discourage cross-court passes to shooters when teams isolate against mismatches.
Offensively, the fit is relatively seamless as well. In the last four years, two things have become known about Caboclo’s offensive game: his shot is smooth and he’s turnover prone.
While the shooting portion of that equation shows the obvious fit with Houston, the turnover issue perhaps does even more. Houston’s famed isolation-centered offense puts so little emphasis on support players doing more than shooting open shots that they can’t help but see their usage and turnover rates drop noticeably once integrated into the Rockets. In Houston, Caboclo would have such a clearly defined role as a floor-spacing forward that the game would be as simple as it’s ever been for him.
Much of Caboclo’s past offensive struggles have come from looking lost in the flow of a modern NBA offense, so being told to merely stand outside and launch would likely mitigate much of those issues, allowing the Rockets to maximize his unique skill set.
As for his shooting, Caboclo has sat around 34% from three his entire G-League career. While that is still below league average, there is plenty of reason to believe that percentage would rise with the Rockets. The shots he’d get would unquestionably be more open considering he’d be sharing the floor with one or two future hall-of-fame point guards.
Additionally, he’d be playing under Mike D’Antoni, who has made a career out of reinventing role players within his system. As recent as this season, we saw a career below average three-point shooter in P.J. Tucker jump up to 37% on high volume simply due to his move to Houston.
With all those factors working for him—and a perpetual weight lifted from his shoulders by escaping Toronto’s rabid fan base—it only seems logical his visually appealing shot would begin to bear fruit from a percentage standpoint.
Rocket’s Coach Mike D’Antoni’s ability to empower players and instill confidence within his system has saved more careers than you can count on two hands. If Caboclo makes shots during training camp and finds his way on to the roster, don’t be surprised if he’s next. It may be his last shot, but it’s the best one he’ll ever get.
Besides, it’s been four years since Fraschilla’s infamous draft night line. Caboclo’s finally ready.