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Bringing Up Bebe Week 16: Lost in the Machine of Life

Lucas Nogueira has worked hard to fit into a system that benefits both man and team. It’s an enviable goal.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Toronto Raptors Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

The structure was put in place for Lucas Nogueira to succeed. That’s important to remember. Growing to seven feet tall helps, as does having a wingspan longer than some prehistoric birds, but there needs to be a system in place to get him through the pipeline from point A (physical gifts, ephemeral talent) to point B (applied skill, positive result). There’s a broader nature/nuture point to be made here, but I don’t want to get too lost in the weeds here. (At least not yet.)

I was arguing with my uncle last night. He has somehow become that uncle in my family. And I think you can guess at everything implied in that. It’s unfortunate because he is often very funny, he likes to absorb and discuss culture, and he has an appreciation for many things (including my writing!). Sure, he and my dad — his brother-in-law — are sometimes at odds, but to me he’s mostly a lovable curmudgeon. He complains because he cares (and because he likes to complain). He, like his brother, watched a lot of All in the Family while growing up.

But of course, because of that, he can’t quite see how structural failures continue to affect people in the city, and world, in which he lives. It’s a common theme among the comfortable — you see it play out across Facebook and in letters to the editor (which my uncle has actually written and seen published in a national newspaper). There’s always this question of, well, if I did it, if I worked hard and got here, why can’t they? But this simple calculus always overlooks the support that was there — be it the relative ease of entry into the country, the public school system, the opportunities offered and taken. That this path forward exists for one, doesn’t mean it exists for another, at least not in the same way. An “us and them” mentality doesn’t really cut it.

The main takeaway is, as always: the structure, the system, the whatever-you-want-to-call it, benefits everyone. In Bebe’s case, he has a career, and is making money. He gets to live a life that could take him in all kinds of interesting directions. The Raptors meanwhile get a solid young big man, someone productive, some who can grow and help build the team’s culture into the future. It’s wonderful to see when it works.


So then what of that future for Bebe? Well, depending on who you talk to, he should either be playing way, way more or much less. We Raptors fans remain undecided. I’m running out of ways to describe how he helps (and sometimes hurts) the team.

As the Raptors went 2-2 this week, Nogueira did his usual thing. He averaged 23.5 minutes, put in 5.5 points, took 4.0 shots (shooting 62.5 percent), grabbed 4.8 rebounds, completed 1.0 assists, and contributed — oddly — 1.5 steals vs. 0.5 blocks. He continued to foul a lot, at 3.5 per game on the week, but his presence on both sides of the court tends to help the team. (Even if his plus/minus was negative 0.8.)

The bottom line here is that the Raptors should be (and presumably are, considering how he fell into their lap in a sense) happy that Bebe is on their team. It proves that the coaching and training systems the franchise has in place are good ones. It points to Masai Ujiri as a strong team president, a leader of men. And we can still applaud when we consider the body of work Nogueira’s managed to put together. Hear, hear to more.

Not Happy

Then again, the Raptors lost two ugly games this week, two games they definitely should have won. Those losses are not on Nogueira — a team wins and loses together, after all — but now he’s got to wear it. It sucks.

After the game in Minnesota, for example, in which the Raptors coughed up a lead and were pushed around while Jonas Valanciunas languished on the bench, Nogueira was semi-exposed for what he may always be. There are limits to his presence on the court, and his production as a result. A wingspan can only reach so far.

Now, a lot of the loss was put on coach Dwane Casey, and it does feel like there were larger organizational failures involved here. As in, why immediately go small when the T-Wolves did? Why try to use Norman Powell as a closer? Why go away from Valanciunas and strand Bebe in an apparently unwinnable situation? (Or, why won’t Patrick Patterson’s knee heal? Argh!)

It’s enough to have a person question the entire system.

Level of High Level

My uncle insisted, even as I left his house in muted dismay, that he takes none of this personally. He does like to debate, so kudos to him for being able to. But how to reach him? How to make him see the error in his thinking? The gears and levers of his mind, and the world, continue to work away. It’s difficult.

When a system breaks down — be it of the social order or on a basketball court — it happens in pieces, usually affecting the most vulnerable first. From his vantage point, it’s hard to look back and see that. Harder still to even develop a desire to see it. Taking a step back to view the entire picture is a demanding practice — but necessary. Lives are at stake.

High Level Result: 6 out of 10 — This isn’t on Bebe, but I do wonder what becomes of him on this team or some other team in the NBA. It feels sometimes like he’s been on an impossible journey, and I continue to hope the structural conditions for his success remain in tact. (Also, I’m tense as hell about the Raptors right now.)