Lewenberg: Meet Nogueira, the other Brazilian Raptor

Josh Lewenberg
7/15/2014 8:39:47 PM
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LAS VEGAS - Lucas "Bebe" Nogueira, the Raptors' other young Brazilian prospect, prefaces each conversation he has using the same disclaimer.

"My English is not so good," he'll tell you, before speaking nearly perfect English for as long as you're willing and able to listen.

All eyes have been on his intriguing countryman, Bruno Caboclo, here in Las Vegas for the NBA's Summer League but unlike his quiet 18-year-old teammate, Nogueira is not the least bit shy. The only thing bigger than his personality is his hair.

The Raptors' acquired the seven-foot centre from Atlanta last month, a year after he was selected with the 16th overall pick and famously attempted to balance a Celtics hat on top of his trademark afro.

Hair aside, what should you know about him? Nogueira has you covered...

"I'm a happy guy, I like to smile," said the 21-year-old, appropriately wearing a big smirk across his face. "I think you should be happy everyday because you have just one life."

It doesn't take long to pick up on Nogueira's unique spirit, it's refreshing in the pressure cooker that is professional basketball.

"It's contagious, infectious," coach Dwane Casey said of Nogueira's personality. "He's sharp and witty, which is a good thing in this league because it's such a frustration-filled league and it can get you down and you can't let it happen as a young kid. You've got to learn, bounce back and get ready for the next play."

Asked about his perspective and approach, things that have helped him stand out early in his Raptors tenure, Nogueira credits his upbringing. He grew up in Rio de Janeiro. He was adopted. His family has supported him and has taught him positive values. His siblings are much older, his brother is 38, his sister 40. He's the youngest, hence the nickname, Bebe.

"It started in Brazil," Nogueira said of the moniker, insisting he has no preference between that and his first name, Lucas. "My family, they called me Bebe. I grew up with Bebe all my life. I don't care [if you call me that] because everyone says it, my mom says it."

Nogueira was in Atlanta when he was told he had been traded to the Raptors. Initially, he was shocked, then confused and a little upset. Why would the Hawks acquire his rights on draft night only to give up on him a year later, he wondered. Generally, it takes young players a few years to pick up on a reality Nogueira was becoming aware of before playing a single game. The NBA is a business. Seeking cap space, the Hawks were eager to shed the contract of Lou Williams and acquire John Salmons' non-guaranteed deal. Nogueira, a player Masai Ujiri and the Raptors liked in the 2013 draft, was the sweetener.

Although the Raptors expect to have Nogueira on the roster this coming season, they're still working on a buyout agreement with his team in Spain, where he played last year and is still under contract. But Nogueira knows better than to get his hopes up after being welcomed to Atlanta a year ago. He's hopeful but is wisely holding off on the celebration, despite all the messages he's received over Twitter, welcoming him to Toronto this past month. "We the north? No, you the north. I'm not, yet," he joked.

Eventually he'll join the Raptors and, like Caboclo, the long seven-footer will become part of the contingency plan for a team with winning aspirations in the short-term and a keen eye on the future. Nogueira has been playing professionally since he was 15-years-old and has helped ease the transition for Caboclo both on and off the floor, relaying information to him in his native Portuguese.

"If you could transfer some of that youthful enthusiasm to Bruno, and he'll get that, [it would be great]," Casey said. "That's one thing we love about Lucas."

The Raptors are happy to have him but - again, like Caboclo - they're tempering immediate expectations, understanding that he still has a ways to go as a player.

"I need to see more to really try to project [how good he can be]," Raptors' assistant and Summer League head coach Jesse Mermuys said of Nogueira, who missed most of the team's mini-camp in Las Vegas nursing a minor calf injury. "He's done some good things and he's had some bad games."

Through three games in his second stint at Summer League - he played for the Hawks last year - Nogueira is averaging 6.0 points and 5.0 rebounds in 19.0 minutes per contest. His defensive instincts, while inconsistent, are promising and he's looked competent as a finisher in the pick-and-roll.

"He's going to have to come in and compete in training camp," Casey cautioned. "I don't see any reason why he couldn't [make the team]. It just depends on how much stronger he gets before October. He's got a long period of time to do it. You can't teach his wingspan."

Between he and Caboclo, the Raptors have over 15-feet of wingspan coming in, but the initial focus for both will be to put on muscle and get stronger. "Soon I'll look like Dwight Howard," Nogueira joked, speaking about the eclectic variety of eatery he'll have at his disposal in Toronto.

Even if he breaks camp with the Raptors, it's unlikely that he'll crack Casey's rotation in his rookie season but the sooner he develops, the better. Toronto could use a player with his upside as a rim protector. "I wish I could jump like that," Nogueira said while watching Cleveland's No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins play on Monday. He may not have Wiggins-like hops but he's no slouch. The centre averaged 1.6 blocks in just 16.6 minutes per game in the Spanish ACB league last year.

"He's got a long way to go," new teammate Kyle Lowry said. "And he's got a big fella in [Jonas Valanciunas], who he'll get better with everyday in practice and get strong and they can learn from each other."

Nogueira knows Valanciunas, having played against him at the 2011 FIBA Under-19 World Championship. The newest Raptor raved about JV's skill set but remembers trying to get under his skin. "Lucas may have gotten under his skin, but Jonas kicked his ass," a Raptors' staffer joked. Nogueira was fifth in rebounds per game and second in blocks while Valanciunas was awarded MVP of that tournament.

With Valanciunas' gregarious personality and Nogueira's jovial nature, the Raptors' locker room should be a lively one for years to come.

Nogueira has spent just one day in Toronto, flying to Canada directly after learning about the trade before heading out West to work out with his new teammates. He hasn't had much time to process where his journey has taken him, and won't get ahead of himself before the next step becomes official, but the Raptors' young Brazilian prospect continues to smile and look forward to what appears to be a promising future.

"The NBA only has 450 jobs for seven billion [people]," he said after crunching the numbers in his head. "I have one job, so I don't have [a] reason to stay sad. I had bad moments in my life but everybody [has] bad moments so I think, okay, I can be sad sometimes but 95 percent [of the time] I want to be happy, because I feel blessed."

Lucas Nogueira (Photo: Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)


(Photo: Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
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