TORONTO – The Toronto Raptors shocked many on the draft floor by going off the board and selecting Brazilian forward Bruno Caboclo with their 20th selection on Thursday night.
But Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri said the pick didn’t come out of nowhere.
Ujiri said he had been tracking Caboclo since the 2013 Basketball Without Borders tournament, where he was named tournament MVP.
“Bruno was one of our next guys and we decided we lost one (Tyler Ennis), we’re not going to lose the second one. We jumped on it,” said Ujiri. “We felt like he’s second on our board so let’s get aggressive.
“He’s a few years away, but he’s a talent that I think, at the end of the day, we will be happy that we picked. We’ll develop him and we’re excited that we got a talent like that.”
Head coach Dwane Casey said that budding talent was something the team simply could not pass up.
“There were some other guys on the board, but still with this young man’s potential, I don’t think the other guys on the board have the potential as high as Bruno and that was the deciding factor for us,” Casey said.
The Raptors, who had been linked to Ennis — a point guard from Brampton, Ont. — had to quickly shift their focus once the Syracuse product was selected 18th overall by the Phoenix Suns.
With Ennis no longer available, Casey says Caboclo became Toronto’s clear choice.
“(Caboclo) is one of those guys that we had to move and get him at 20 once we didn’t have a chance to get Tyler Ennis,” said Casey. “We had a program in place where we were going to try and get Tyler and Bruno. Once we couldn’t move up and get Tyler, Bruno was the guy.”
Casey said Toronto was one of just three or four teams who knew of Caboclo, a native of Sao Paolo, but Phoenix was also in the mix. With the Suns holding the No. 27 pick, the Raptors didn’t feel Caboclo would drop to the 37th pick, where Toronto selected second.
“When you start to hear that the guy could be gone at certain places, we started to hear in the late first round,” Ujiri said. “Sometimes it gets frustrating where you don’t get the picks that you want and you lose a guy and that happened to us earlier.”
Toronto also picked DeAndre Daniels, a six-foot-nine forward out of UConn, with the 37th overall selection. The Raptors ended their draft by taking 6-4 guard Xavier Thames with the 59th pick, but quickly dealt him to the Brooklyn Nets for cash considerations.
Caboclo, who will turn 19 in September, is a 6-8 swingman with a 7-7 wingspan. He spent the 2013-14 season with Pinheiros of the Brazilian league and played 16 games last year, scoring 4.9 points and grabbing 3.1 rebounds per game.
“He’s one of those players with a tremendous amount of potential: athletic, wingspan, same wingspan as JaVale McGee,” said Casey. “He’s raw, but again he’s going to be a guy that develops in our program and grow and do a lot of things for us.”
The plan for Caboclo, who was en route to New York from Houston at the time of the Raptors pick, is to have him go to Los Angeles and work out with Raptors veterans DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Terrence Ross before heading to Las Vegas to participate in summer league action.
“I think this development is important for him where he’s getting used to the facilities, used to the training,” Ujiri said.
Caboclo is expected to fly to Toronto Friday.
This isn’t the first time Toronto has selected a Brazilian in the first round. In 2004, the Raptors used the eighth overall selection on Rafael Araujo, who spent two seasons with the Raptors from 2004-2006, averaging 2.9 points per game.