The term ‘breakout’ is a popular word people use for players who unexpectedly become significant contributors on their team, but there are different levels that this term can pertain to. In some cases, you have a perceived role player transforming into a star, such as Victor Oladipo or Donovan Mitchell. For the Memphis Grizzlies and their fans, the hope is that Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Brandon Clarke could have that type of breakout season over the next few years.
The term can also be used in situations where a player does not become a star. In these cases, a player is able to add certainty to what was perceived to be an uncertain future by working his way into some team’s long term plans. An example of this was Delon Wright in the 2018-2019 season. When Wright was traded from Toronto to Memphis, he immediately walked into an expanded role as a combo guard. As that role and his usage increased, his play improved. In the end, Wright did not become a star, but proved he could be a valuable role player. The result was a 3-year, $29M commitment from the Dallas Mavericks.
Players such as Grayson Allen, Josh Jackson, Dillon Brooks, and D’Anthony Melton come to mind as players who could do something similar this year, and for good reason. Each player has flashed potential, but are still viewed more for their potential than production at this point in their careers. With the current status of the Grizzlies, the franchise has plenty of reason to give these guys the chance to shine.
Another young player whom the Grizzlies should give chances to prove his worth this year is Bruno Caboclo. It is logical to say that a few of the players mentioned above may be just as talented as Caboclo. However, there are many things to like about Caboclo’s game that can help the Grizzlies on both ends of the court. Furthermore, Caboclo’s strengths as a player line up well with some of the Grizzlies weaknesses as a team. His strengths also align with head coach Taylor Jenkins and his stated preferences for his roster and style of play. As a result, Caboclo could have just as good a chance as anyone to play his way into the Grizzlies future plans.
In his introductory press conference, Jenkins mentioned that his first emphasis will be on defense. While that may have seemed like a cliche response, especially in Memphis, it also is a very logical approach with the skill sets on the Grizzlies’ roster. Caboclo may be among the most intriguing of those skill sets. As the highlights show above, Caboclo offers a great deal of versatility in his ability to impact the oppositions’ shots. Whether it be on the perimeter or in the paint, whether he is facing MVP candidates or reserves, Caboclo can hold his own and get the job done on defense. Per Cleaning the Glass, Caboclo ranked in the 95% percentile of players at his position in terms of blocking his opponent’s shots when on the court.
The reason this gives Caboclo a chance to see his role grow this year is that few others possess his length or ability to guard multiple positions. Caboclo’s ability to defend multiple positions means he could have success in situations that call for a defender to switch assignments.
Caboclo can also offer effective defense regardless of the pace of play. Rather it was in transition, during a half-court set, or in isolation, Caboclo has shown the ability to make a stop in each situation. If Jenkins can combine Caboclo’s abilities with those of Jackson Jr., Clarke, Kyle Anderson, or Josh Jackson on the court at the same time, the Grizzlies will possess the ability to shut down its opponents on the perimeter or the paint. That is a tremendous building block in establishing a winning culture in Memphis.
Beyond his abilities on the defensive end, Caboclo’s offensive game has the chance to carry significant value in the Grizzlies scheme. Another point of emphasis for Jenkins in his press conference was “pace and space”. Jenkins wants to move fast and create open looks for high percentage shots. He especially wants to be consistent with that ability when it comes to shooting the three. On many occasions last year, as can be seen against the Thunder, Bruno Caboclo showed he has the ability to fit perfectly into multiple offensive schemes to help Jenkins achieve the space he desires.
The key area where Caboclo has significant potential is as a catch and shoot option from beyond the arc. As the highlights show, not only does Caboclo show the awareness to position himself where he has the space to shoot, he also has a quick release that can be used anywhere around the arc. He ranked in the 88th percentile of players at his position for how many of his overall threes came from the corner of the court, and in the 75% percentile with 54% percent of his overall shots coming beyond the arc.
While Caboclo could certainly improve his accuracy from the corners, he offered above average production in his ability to make threes overall. This makes Caboclo an important offensive asset for a team that lacks legitimate shooting options. If Caboclo gets a good look, he takes his shot quickly and with confidence. With his length, the confidence and quick release means he can shoot when open or in traffic.
This is the exact type of option Jenkins and his staff needs to effectively run schemes to create space, such as the pick and roll and perimeter hand-offs. Caboclo’s astute awareness with his positioning as a spot up shooter allows for him a to be an easy passing option for the Grizzlies point guards. Furthermore, Caboclo’s ability to hit the three from anywhere means that Memphis can run their plays from different angles, and that Caboclo can be quite effective moving without the ball.
The reason the corner three has become such a valuable shot for offenses, beyond the obvious “closest three” argument, is it is so hard for the defense to defend as they protect the paint. As the season progressed and Caboclo continued to see his role expand, he got more comfortable with his shooting stroke from the corner. Overall, 46 of Caboclo’s 47 made threes last year were assisted, so chemistry with his teammates is a must. While it may take time to gel with Morant, Tyus Jones, and Melton, Caboclo will have good passers to work with. If he can consistently convert his looks, he could become one of the preferred shooting options on the Grizzlies roster.
If Caboclo does see his role grow as the 2019-2020 season progresses, he showed that his game can improve to as his usage increases. In the seven games that Caboclo played between 30-39 minutes, Caboclo produced a 131 Offensive Rating and 109 Defensive Rating. Those numbers resulted in a +/- mark of + 7.4 when Caboclo was on the court, proof he added significant positive value to the Grizzlies’ chances to win. This is not meant to suggest Caboclo should be a starter, as he produced these numbers against weaker competition at the end of last season. It simply is an encouraging sign that if Caboclo excels as a bench option to begin the year, he should continue to produce as he earns more minutes.
In the grand scheme of the Grizzlies present and future, the development of a player such as Bruno Caboclo may not seem that significant on the surface. There is a chance Memphis could simply part ways with him before the season and find another intriguing talent to develop. However, the versatility that Caboclo potentially provides on both ends of the court is rare to find. His abilities, if utilized correctly, can help the Grizzlies improve in their obvious areas of weakness as an entire roster. He also provides the ability to add positive value on defense and through shooting that will be critical to the overall effectiveness of the Grizzlies bench.
Caboclo is the exact type of talent that the Grizzlies should hope to develop into a relevant part of their future. History suggests Memphis is not a desired destination for significant talent. There is a good chance that the Grizzlies would have to overpay more than other teams. As a result, Jenkins and his staff must place an emphasis on getting production from cheap yet talented sources. If Caboclo can put forth a consistent effort to succeed, he should be given plenty of opportunities to do just that.
If the Grizzles simply make him a priority, his potential development into a significant role player for the future could be another positive step toward sustainable prosperity for both Caboclo and Memphis.