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Lucas Nogueira is good, so where does he fit?

June 1st, 2017 at 10:36 AM
Aggregated By Sports Media 101

In mid-November, Lucas Nogueira hid his face in a towel inside the Toronto Raptors locker room. On the surface, it looked like he was just wiping sweat away after a shower didn’t fully take. In reality, though, Nogueira needed a moment to dim the thousand-watt smile that was betraying just how much this game had meant to him.It had been Nogueira’s fourth strong game in a row, and after teammates had hugged him on the court, they were now clowning him as his scrum started. In a season full of big moments, it was one of the more touching, the degree to which teammates have believed in and rooted for the affable Brazilian on full display.

Fast-forward to the first round of the playoffs, and Nogueira’s most notable post-game moment was far more somber. After Norman Powell had yet another series-swinging performance, Nogueira asked Powell earnestly how he stays ready, how he can deal with the mental ups and downs of sitting in wait for an opportunity for long stretches, and shake it all off and perform when needed.

That these nights happened in the order they did underscores another season that grades somewhere between disappointing and frustrating for Nogueira, and it starts all the way back in training camp. It probably starts two training camps prior to that, really, when an injury sidelined him and rendered him a co-14th/15th man with Bruno Caboclo for his rookie NBA season, despite having enjoyed notable success internationally. In the year between, Nogueira was meant to compete with Bismack Biyombo for the backup role, but Nogueira suffered another camp injury, and Biyombo, well, everyone knows what he did with that backup spot. At least 2015-16 offered a brief glimpse of what Nogueira could offer, with theĀ 7-plus-footer stepping up big in a small handful of games before falling injured again.

So this past fall, Nogueira set out to lock down the backup role again, this time opposite lottery pick Jakob Poeltl. Nogueira had a strong offseason, came to camp stronger, and outperformed the rookie. With a few days left in camp, it was all but plain that Nogueira had won the backup role. He looked good. Naturally, he once again suffered a minor injury, and it wouldn’t be until the team’s sixth game of the season that Nogueira took his presumed job back.

When he did, Nogueira was about as good as the Raptors could have possibly hoped. Blessed with ridiculous length, Nogueira provided a reasonable facsimile of Biyombo’s rim protection, mimicked Jonas Valanciunas’ role as a bone-crunching screen-setter (he was third in the NBA in screen assists per-minute), and provided the team’s ball-handlers, Kyle Lowry in particular, with an easy lob target. Nogueira also managed to flash a modicum of range and, most importantly to the Raptors’ offense, was easily their best-passing big, maybe even their best-passing non-All-Star. Nogueira’s ability to read the floor quickly and willingness to pass out of 4-on-3 scenarios made him a valuable two-way piece, even if there were still some clear weaknesses (he’s not an elite rebounder, is susceptible to being bullied in the post, and while he was the team’s best high-waller in the side pick-and-roll, his length can’t always make up for foot speed defending larger swaths of space in the middle of the floor, though he does manage to hedge without sacrificing the rim).

Nogueira was so good, in fact, that with injuries to the power forward position, head coach Dwane …

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Tags: Columns, Lucas Nogueira, Toronto Raptors

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