Lucas Nogueira, known as Bebe, is a fan favorite in Toronto. Acquired in 2014 with Lou Williams from Atlanta (in exchange for John Salmons — more wizardry from Masai Ujiri), Nogueira has played three seasons with the Raptors — all of them brimming with the idea that “this is the year.”
This season was no different. Beginning in training camp, Nogueira was ready to become the backup center for the Raptors — a title that has been within his unbelievable 8’0” grasp for at least the past two years. He started the year solid, if not unspectacular. A few of his best games came within the first three weeks of the season — before he was unseated by the more calm and calculated Jakob Poeltl.
Nogueira will never not be able to affect the game with his reach. The aforementioned 8-foot wingspan alters shots aplenty when he’s on the floor, and that’s his singular focus when he plays. The problem was, Dwane Casey never trusted Nogueira in the other aspects of team basketball — the offense and specific defensive rotations are areas which the Brazilian native struggled to acclimate in.
He had games like this, where he displayed his incredible potential to impact a game in a variety of ways:
He did his singular job better than anyone on the team — and almost better than the entire league.
Nogueira places third on the NBA leader board for blocks per 100 possessions with a mark of 5.1. He is the only player in the league to play at least 18 games and average more than 5.0 blocks per 100 possessions. Nogueira appeared in 49 games for the Raptors this year, averaging 8.5 minutes and almost a full block — 0.9 — per game in that tiny minute-share. To say that he alters shots is an incredible understatement.
What Casey had at his fingertips was another Bismack Biyombo — someone who, theoretically, could enter the game and dominate on defense. But that sort of muscular energy was never really in Bebe’s range. And, sadly, Casey could never quite use the giant effectively.
His focus. Nogueira, for all of his quirks, can never seem to focus on basketball. He has other loves in his life — such as music — and he’s an incredibly compassionate person who seems to lack a competitive edge that normally gives players the necessary drive to succeed in sports.
I say that with a huge asterisk, because it’s my personal opinion. But, sometimes you could see the unpreparedness of Nogueira as clear as you could read the numbers on his jersey. In the final game of the season, Game 4 in the Semi-Finals, he was thrust onto the court — presumably ready to play — and lacked all focus on both ends resulting in his benching just two minutes later. Now, was it a good idea to throw Bebe out there in that moment? Maybe not. But this was still what Casey struggled with throughout Nogueira’s entire career in Toronto. He referred to Bebe as a “wild card” and that’s exactly what he was, for better or worse.
Nogueira had the backup job in his hands this season. Poeltl proved to be a raw prospect last season that needed more time to develop. While Nogueira showed glimpses of something special, it was never maintained. As possibly the most inconsistent Raptors player outside of Terrence Ross, this season was a big disappointment for fans of Nogueira.
Maybe he needs another coach to get through to him, and maybe that coach will be in Toronto next season. Unfortunately, it appears the team is in no position to bring back the Brazilian eccentric next year, unless it’s on a very cheap contract.