This offseason was going to be the breakthrough. This was going to be the chance to get some burn and get back in the comfort zone...
These must have been the thoughts echoing through Raptors' center Rafael Araujo's head when GM Rob Babcock allowed the 2nd year center to play for the Brazilian National Team at the FIBA Americas Tournament and practice with the team this summer. While some may have viewed this as a wasted opportunity for Hoffa to build chemistry with the other young Raps it also seemed like a wise choice to allow Hoffa to train all summer with a good program and gain some much needed game time experience.
Unfortunately things have not worked out quite as hoped. It was reported that Hoffa will not be seeing any game time action this tournament due to the contraction of "Pink Eye." Even without Araujo, the Brazillian squad was still the favourite in the tournament but Raptors' fans and management were eager to get a look at the center in a less talented field of players; a great opportunity for Hoffa to regain confidence and work on his game not to mention showcase some of the skills that made him such a high draft choice but 1 year ago.
Perhaps all is not lost this offseason however. Araujo did get in a substantial amount of practice time prior to his eye injury and perhaps this will give "baby" his swagger back.
The question remains...does Araujo have or ever WILL have, NBA swagger.
From the early days Araujo was a man among boys. He put up huge numbers in high school at Padre Anacleto High School in Brazil and went to the United States to play college ball. He spent two seasons playing Junior College Ball at Arizona Western Collge averaging 17.9 points and 10.7 rebounds as a sophomore. He helped lead the Matadors to an oustanding 28-3 record and a top 10 ranking among Juco's. Hoffa was also awarded the region's MVP award and was starting to get NCAA Division 1 recognition. He transfered to Brigham Young University in Utah for his final two seasons of eligibility and put up even better numbers for the Cougars considering he was now playing against the top players in North America. As a senior, Hoffa averaged 18.4 points a game and 10.1 rebounds while being named co-player of the year for the Mountain West Conference. He was also getting serious attention from NBA scouts and was being recognized as one of the best big men in all of the NCAA. Games like his 32 point, 17 rebound effort against a higher ranked Oklahoma team and his 24 point, 12 rebound game in BYU's loss to eventual NCAA Champ Syracuse really stood out and it was clear that the NBA was Hoffa's next step.
The question then come draft time was where would the big man from Brazil be picked? GM's are notorious fordrafting on the "you can't teach size" motto so it looked like Araujo was destined to be a first round selection.
The knock against Hoffa however was his lack of mobility. While he had some great offensive post moves, and used his size to bully his way around in the paint, the NBA players he'd be facing would be just as big or bigger and more athletic. Based on this, and Hoffa's lack of defensive intangibles, most mock drafts had him going as high as 12 and as low as 24 in the upcoming draft. Araujo knew of his shortcomings however and after finishing his season at BYU, decided to put in some work to improve his draft stock. The work paid off.
Hoffa moved to California in early April to work with trainer Glen Reyes of West Coast Sports Training on improving his speed, strength and athleticsm. For 6 weeks he trained hard using video footage that Reyes had taken to Biomechanically analyze his movements. This training resulted in increased muscle mass, endurance, speed, agility and all around atheleticsm. According to NBA GM's, Hoffa had some of the best workouts for teams as he powered through quicker and more athletic players and outmanoeuvered and was simply too quick for larger matchups. While he was still not viewed as a dominant defensive presence, many scouts compared his rugged offensive style and deft shooting touch to Brad Miller and his passing from the post and "feel" for the game to former European great Arvydas Sabonis. Lofty comparisons for sure but after his excellent workouts and incoming Toronto Raptors' GM Rob Babcock's need for a big man, the Raptors selected Hoffa with their first round pick, 8th overall.
While it appeared that the Raptors had filled a need with the pick, many were astounded by it feeling that Araujo was picked much too high for his talent level. In part II of our look at Hoffa we'll discuss draft night itself, including an analysis of the draft from a Raptors' fans' perspective, the expectations placed on Hoffa and how the selection was viewed going into this past season.