NBA

Lewenberg: Raptors pull off 'stealth' draft night shocker

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Josh Lewenberg
6/27/2014 10:17:16 AM
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BROOKLYN - It was widely expected to be one of the more unpredictable drafts in recent memory, but in the end it was Masai Ujiri and the Toronto Raptors that raised the most eyebrows.

For the first time all night, as the Raptors were on the clock to make the 20th overall selection, no one had the slightest idea what was about to happen. No leaks, no whispers, nothing.

Then came the announcement.

"With the 20th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, the Toronto Raptors select Bruno Caboclo from Sao Paulo, Brazil," first-year commissioner Adam Silver proclaimed with a confused look on his face as the basketball world raced to their internet browsers and Google apps.

Who was this Brazilian mystery man?

The grainy clip of him shown on the broadcast appeared to be shot from a cell phone. A web search produced a few brief videos, little more. The bio distributed by the Raptors came courtesy of Eurobasket and listed his weight as "n/a".

"There's probably three or four teams that knew about him," Raptors coach Dwane Casey told reporters in Toronto shortly after the selection.

Seven days ago Casey was in the same boat. He knew very little about the player that would eventually become his newest 6-foot-9, 205-pound small forward.

"I hadn't seen him, didn't know who he was but I was totally impressed when I saw him," said Casey, who accompanied Ujiri on a scouting trip to Houston where they watched Caboclo workout and met with him a week ago.

Caboclo had been on Ujiri's radar for some time. The Raptors' general manager made three trips to see the young Brazilian forward play throughout the season, and he had to be "stealth" about it. In this day and age it seems impossible that such a talent could exist, anywhere in the world, without every team and every scout knowing about him, right? It also seemed impossible that for once, in this age of social media, a pick was not broken on Twitter five minutes before it was made. But that's Ujiri. That's how he does business, quietly.

Expecting to use the 37th pick of the draft, Ujiri promised Caboclo the Raptors would select him months ago and as a result, the forward declined to workout for NBA teams. True to form, Ujiri was not following along with mock drafts, he was not the least bit concerned about how such a pick would be received. He saw something in Caboclo.

"He's a talent," Ujiri said of the 18-year-old and youngest player available in this draft. "I think at the end of the day we will be happy we picked him."

Caboclo was not Ujiri's primary target. As expected, the Raptors were after Canadian point guard Tyler Ennis, hoping he would fall to them while also trying desperately to trade up for him. Ideally, Toronto had hoped to select Ennis with pick no. 20 and snag Caboclo early in the second-round with pick no. 37. But the plan changed, as they often do on draft night, when the Phoenix Suns took Ennis at 18, two picks ahead of the Raptors.

"We decided we lost one," Ujiri said. "We're not going to lose the second one. We jumped on it."

The Raptors were fearful that Caboclo, second on their board, wouldn't make it back to them. A couple teams that had intel on the Brazilian and were believed to be interested - Phoenix and Utah - had picks ahead of Toronto and after missing out on a similar prodigy in Greek freak Giannis Antetokounmpo a year ago, Ujiri was not going to let this target get away.

The allure, despite the lack of available information, is not a surprise given the rare gifts possessed by the long and athletic Caboclo. The first thing that jumps out watching short clips of the newest Raptor is his 7-foot-7 wingspan.

"Bruno is an athletic phenomenon," Casey said. "At [pick no.] 20, you can't go out and 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's going to develop in our program and grow and do a lot of things for us. Defensively he's long, he covers a lot of ground down [and] blocks shots with his length."

He passed Casey's eye test immediately and the Raptors' coach is confident he'll turn heads once he heads north, calling him one of the most athletic players in the draft.

"I know a lot of people don't know about him. We're excited to get him. He's going to be a guy that's going to grow with our program and no one is going to be disappointed once this guy is developed and hits his peak because he's one of those guys that has a chance to hit it big as far as his potential is concerned."

After a return to the playoffs last season, the Raptors have the luxury of bringing Caboclo along slowly, allowing him to learn in practice and on the bench, without the pressure of having to produce at a high level in his rookie campaign. Among other things, he'll need to get bigger and stronger, he'll need to get comfortable with the NBA game and his familiarity with the language will also be a work in progress.

Upon meeting the 18-year-old Brazilian, Casey asked him who his favourite player is, to which Caboclo responded, "Kevin Durant". "Can you guard Kevin Durant," Casey asked and without hesitation the young man replied, "yes".

Casey was impressed with his willingness and ability to learn on fly, a quality that should serve him well when he does join his new team.

"He's a smart young man, his basketball IQ is high," said the Raptors' coach. "He knows how to play, has a great feel for the game. He's going to be a clean slate as far as a guy to work with."

Caboclo spent draft night in New York getting his visa sorted out before he makes a quick trip to Toronto over the weekend, where he'll be introduced following a workout at the ACC on Saturday. Next week he'll meet up with some of his new teammates and coaches in Los Angeles and is expected to participate in Summer League with the Raptors next month.

Although there's no telling what role he'll have with the team or to what extent he's able to produce right away, Caboclo will be a member of the Raptors this coming season.

The Raptors were able to add a more seasoned player with the 37th pick in forward DeAndre Daniels, a proven winner and member of the reining National Champion UConn Huskies. Daniels, 22, averaged 13.1 points and 6.0 rebounds with Connecticut last season.

"He's a good athlete also," Casey said of Daniels. "He's a guy that's going to go through our Summer League program and we'll see where he is but I was impressed with his workout."

Toronto selected Xavier Thames of San Diego State with the 59th overall pick, quickly trading him to the Brooklyn Nets for cash considerations.

Masai Ujiri (Photo: Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)
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