NBA stars dominate conversation about the league, but it's often useful to remember that the basketball world contains a full cast of characters and personalities. In just over a month, first-round pick and Atlanta Hawks big man Lucas "Bebe" Nogueira has ingratiated himself to the culture surrounding the sport. From the moment he tried to put his cap on his gigantic hair at the draft, he has been a joyful presence. It doesn't hurt that he's an athletic dynamo capable of blocking shots at a high rate.
Unfortunately, NBA fans will probably need to wait at least a year to see Nogueira on a regular basis. After signing journeyman Gustavo Ayon, the Hawks look set to keep their rookie in Spain for at least one more season. From Chris Vivlamore for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
It appears that first-round draft pick center Lucas Nogueira will return to Spain for another season. I’m told that the Hawks’ waiver claim pick up of forward/center Gustavo Ayon “most likely” means that Nogueira will get another year overseas to work on his game and build his body. [...]
The 7-foot Nogueira showed promised using his height and reach while playing for the Hawks in the Las Vegas Summer League earlier this month. However, at 225 pounds, he was clearly out muscled on the boards by fellow draftees and others training to earn training camp invites.
The issue facing the Hawks was whether it would have been better for Nogueira’s development to play major minutes overseas or play limited minutes while on a weight-training program in Atlanta. The decision was aided by landing Ayon at a modest $1.5 million salary.
Nogueira said this month that his preference is to remain in the United States.
“Everybody talks to me about this,” Nogueira told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “If I stay here, I’m happy. But if I need to go back I’m happy too because in Spain everybody believes in me. I’ve lived … in Spain and I know my club and everybody knows me. I’m happy. I know I can improve my game in Spain. I improved so much this year from last year. Right now, the most important thing is my body. I can’t improve my body in Spain. I’m perfect to stay here because the most important thing is to improve my body.”
After adding Paul Millsap and Elton Brand to replace the departed Josh Smith, the Hawks have a crowded frontcourt. With those players and others on relatively short contracts, the 20-year-old Nogueira can return to Asefa Estudiantes in the world's second-best basketball league, develop physically, and still play a big part in Atlanta's long-term plans. The decision is something of a no-brainer.
But it's still a bummer for North American fans, if only because Nogueira looked like a player with the opportunity to become one of the most enjoyable players in 2013's relatively unexciting rookie class. No part of this development will bar him from becoming that, of course, but the process has been delayed. We all know that it takes time for rookies to develop into their full selves, but the instant gratification of seeing them in NBA uniforms often feels like a right, not a privilege. Putting off Nogueira's arrival is a disappointment, albeit a perfectly logical choice.
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