In the last year or so, my little brother, four years my junior, has recovered from hip replacement surgery, moved out (for good this time!) of my parents’ house into a condo with his long-time girlfriend, and voiced some new career aspirations that should keep him busy for the foreseeable future. I’m proud of him — as his older brother, and as a guy who is also trying to make his way in the world.
(An aside here: I also have a younger sister who, let it be known, I’m also damn impressed by. But since we’re in the realm of professional sports, talking about men relating to men, I’ll keep this between my brother and I for the time being.)
The other night I was at his new place for dinner, a random happenstance. It was me, him, his girlfriend, and her younger sister. We lounged for a bit, ate some delicious food, and afterwards he and I walked to a nearby local brewery to buy a few beers and carry them back to the apartment. If pressed, I can only remember snippets of the things we talked about (sorry, bro), but I can recall how I felt. For most of last year, I ran myself through emotional wringers of my own design; the effect of this may take some years to untangle entirely. However things play out, or wherever the two of us end up in our lives, geographically or otherwise, I know my brother will be there. There’s a reassuring strength and comfort in that.
I like to imagine a basketball team operating in a similar way to some extent. The best of them definitely feel like some kind of brotherhood, at least from our outside view. The players come together, in some cases even grow together, and work as a unit to achieve success in their lives and careers. Yes, it ends eventually on the court. But it’s why we love to see old teammates great each other with warmth, or why we cherish the displays of impish joy from the Raptors’ Lucas Nogueira and Bruno Caboclo on social media.
On that last point, it seems likely those two — Bebe and Bruno — will eventually be apart. (Bruno in particular does not seem long for the NBA.) But at the same time, it feels fair to say they’ll be brothers for life. And that’s nice to imagine too.
While Bebe almost never gets to be on the court as the same time as pal Bruno, he does have other young big man to play with on the Raptors. The team’s been without Jared Sullinger since day one of the season, and recently saw Patrick Patterson hobbled by injury (more to come in the Not Happy section, obviously), but that does not discount Nogueira’s partnerships with Jonas Valanciunas, and rookies Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam. In one sense, these guys are all competing with each other for minutes, but in another they’re cooperating to get the job done.
It’s been the former two (JV and Jak) who have found themselves sharing the floor with Bebe, as unlikely as that sounds, in two-centre lineups. In games against the Lakers and Suns, the Raptors tried Jonas and Bebe together, and then against the Spurs, they trotted out Bebe and Poeltl. As Blake “My Raps Blogging Brother” Murphy wrote at The Athletic, while both combos are not exactly perfect (and the Raptors went 1-2 for the week), they do merit at least a little consideration going forward.
With all the recent trade talk regarding Paul Millsap, it would be interesting to find out which current Raptors in whichever combination could play together right now. The results may even happily surprise.
That said, it is hard to overstate the effect losing Patterson has for the big men on the Raptors. Pat’s been the team’s steady hand for the entire season — even when his shot wasn’t falling and it was clear he was in his own head. As the senior forward on the team (Patterson is three years older than Bebe, Sully and JV), it’s hard not to see him as something of a guiding force.
And so goes the play of Nogueira for the past week. In the aforementioned three games, Bebe was far from his best self — totally inconsequential against Phoenix (along with most of the team), sporadically useful in a win over the woeful Lakers, and devastated against the Spurs (though those three blocks look nice in the box score after the fact). The key to Bebe’s success is not the presence of Patterson, of course, but it’s not a good time when your brother goes down. Let’s just hope everyone can get back up.
Level of High Level
The Raptors as a unit limped into 2017 with the conclusion of a 3-3 road trip. Dwane Casey won Coach of the Month even while searching for (uninjured) lineups that could work against powerhouse teams. This week we’ll remain neutral and see if there are better things in store.
High Level Result: 6 out of 10 — While I love the idea of Poeltl playing with Bebe, we’re not there yet. And the Raptors now have to prove they’re for real, as injuries start to play a role, and other teams begin to find their footing.