The Toronto Raptors have had quite the hot start to the 2016-2017 NBA season. One of the less obvious reasons in their strong play has been the improvement of Lucas Nogueira, who into his third season in the NBA is finally becoming a legitimate part of the team’s frontcourt rotation.

Nogueira has been getting more minutes after Bismack Biyombo signed with the Orlando Magic. Biyombo and Nogueira know each other from their days of playing in Spain, and Biyombo encouraged Nogueira to take the opportunity he know has with both hands. After playing only 35 total games during his first two seasons in the league, averaging 7.1 minutes per game, the Raptors have promoted him into full time backup center and a bit more.

The 24-year old 7-footer from Brazil is averaging 25.8 minutes in his four appearances this season. With that come 8.3 points per game, 7.3 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 2.5 blocks, which is impressive when you translate it into per 36 minutes. He’s also taking shots he can’t miss, making 88.2% of his field goal attempts, averaging 4.3 per game. If he’d go a little bit more to the line things would be close to ideal during his minutes on offense, so far taking one trip to the line per game.

Net rating numbers can be misleading when it comes to bench players because of the players they face. However, it’s hard to ignore how much better the Raptors have been during his minutes: He has a +23.2 net rating, and Toronto are 18.9 points better per 100 possessions with Nogueira on the floor compared to his time on the bench. The Raptors have a 100.4 defensive rating during his minutes, and an incredible 123.6 offensive rating when he’s playing.

lucas-nogueira

What’s next? Consistency, and move up from there. Nogueira isn’t going to displace Jonas Valanciunas at center. Right now, the Brazilian needs to stay on the roster and not get dropped and called back up again, moving from Toronto to the D-League team on a weekly basis. That, and starting to play with 2018 in mind. The Raptors have Nogueira on contract for next season as well, and then he’ll become a restricted free agent. Keeping up his current form will result in the kind of salary upgrade that left so many stunned to see, only it won’t be as surprising anymore.