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Player Preview 2017-18: Is it time to end the Bruno experiment?

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We’re in Year 4 of the Bruno experiment with few tangible results to point to. Where do the Raptors go from here?

NBA: Toronto Raptors-Media Day John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

In some ways, no player epitomizes the Masai Ujiri experience like Bruno Caboclo. His entire presence symbolizes Masai’s belief in growth and development, and there’s a sense that the franchise persists with trying to turn him into a functional player because the Toronto Raptors ultimately believe that continuity is an asset.

But four years into his career, much of Bruno’s appeal remains shrouded in hypotheticals and loaded descriptors like “potential.” It’s hard to have a nuanced conversation about Bruno because there isn’t much to tangibly grasp onto when evaluating his viability as an NBA player.

Spending most of the last year with the Raptors 905, Bruno tallied 10 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 1 block in 27 minutes per game, with shooting splits of 41-33-65. In the NBA, he made nine appearances, all of them in garbage time. To this point, he’s made 23 appearances for the Raptors and a grand total of zero meaningful minutes.

Coming into this offseason, with the number of key departures on the Raptors roster, the door had started to crack open slightly on the possibility of Bruno playing real NBA minutes. Coming off an excellent performance in the D-League Finals where he capped a championship performance with 31 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks, the momentum was picking up on Bruno possibly, maybe being ready.

Everything from Caboclo since early May has been about as close to disastrous as any player in such a precarious position would dare to get. First, there was the dismissal from the Brazilian national team in the summer due to a sideline tantrum.

Due to his engagements with the national team, the Raptors were unable to see him in action in Summer League. With Bruno now able to decline trips to Mississauga to play for the Raptors 905, there were more than a few whispers that he’d be in the running to take some of the minutes at the backup SF/PF minutes if he showed himself to be ready to handle them. On several occasions in training camp when asked about the battle for rotation spots, Bruno’s name was notably included and emphasized by Dwane Casey. And in return, we saw this in preseason:

Meanwhile, not only have the likes of OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam outperformed him to this point, but training camp invitees like Alfonzo McKinnie and K.J. McDaniels have done a far better job showing their worth to the Raptors than Bruno.

But again, the conversation about Bruno requires nuance. On one hand, this is who he is. He’s the guy who entered the league knowing no more than the number of NBA players you can count on one hand. This is a kid who cried in his first Summer League game when he got dunked on by a certified scrub in C.J. Fair. This is a player who looked like he didn’t know where to line up during free throws. He still looks like he learns a new rule of basketball every time he steps on to the court.

He’s also responsible for these pictures:

Smh Bruno
Smh Bruno Part 2

Despite all that, the franchise will ride this experiment out, no matter what the end game ends up being. For all his faults, there remains something worth exploring while he’s still on a guaranteed contract. It’s important to remember that when he entered the league, Bruno was the youngest player in the NBA, and only just turned 22. His first year in the NBA was almost a wash with the Raptors not having a designated D-League franchise.

Bruno is a legitimate 7 footer with a near 8-foot wingspan. He can block shots by accident with his length, but last year in the D-League, he was a menace on the defensive end of the floor. He has the ability to stretch the floor and hit 3-pointers at a high volume (33% last year on five attempts per game).

The game is evolving to a place where a semi-actualized version of Bruno can absolutely thrive. A rangy defender who can space the floor absolutely has value. He doesn’t need to be Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kevin Durant. All Bruno really needs to do find his footing in the NBA is learn how to make the safe play, the safe pass, cut out silly turnovers, stay engaged on defense and let his length and distance shooting do the work for him. That’s likely an oversimplification, but sand all the edges and hone in on what he can do well, and that’s his ultimate destiny as an NBA player if he ever gets to that point.

Nevertheless, we’re in the fourth and potentially final year of what’s been an absolutely wild ride on the Bruno roller coaster. The Raptors rolled the dice, Fran Fraschilla coined a phrase that will stand the test of time, and his presence kickstarted the Raptors’ focus on grassroots development to spur the creation of a D-League franchise.

Bruno is also the key component in one of the most memorable moments in franchise history.

That’s reason enough to hope it all works out.