Only 13 players born in Brazil have ever played in an NBA regular season game. This season, barring training camp cuts, nine natives of Brazil are in line to see action.
The host nation for the 2016 Olympics has increasingly made its presence felt in professional basketball. Brazil’s initial forays into the NBA didn’t cause much of a ripple, as Rolando Ferreira, the first Brazilian to play in the league, made his way into only 12 career games, all of them for the Trail Blazers in 1988/89, even though he was the 26th overall pick in the 1988 draft. Joao Vianna, the next to follow Ferreira’s path from Brazil to the NBA in 1991/92, made just one appearance for the Mavericks. Oscar Schmidt made the Hall of Fame for his legendary overseas career, but he never played in the NBA.
The real breakthrough has come in the past decade. Leandro Barbosa, aka The Brazilian Blur, and Anderson Varejao have played key roles on contending teams off and on for the past decade. Nene overcame serious injuries to score a five-year, $65MM deal that he’s still playing on. Tiago Splitter started at center for the title-winning Spurs in 2013/14 before moving on to the Hawks in a trade this summer.
Still, the Brazilian NBB league lags far behind Europe in terms of notoriety. That’s one reason why it was such a shock when the Raptors drafted Brazilian native Bruno Caboclo, a forward for Pinheiros, with the 20th overall pick in 2014. Caboclo started only five games for Pinheiros the previous season, so his talent went under the radar to all but a few plugged-in NBA scouts and executives. Whether he was worth the gamble is still to be determined, since he made it into only eight games as an NBA rookie this past season, two more than fellow Raptors first-year player Lucas Nogueira, who also hails from Brazil.
Brazilian Raul Neto is in line for more frequent action in his first season with the Jazz this year, particularly if the team doesn’t bring in another point guard to replace the injured Dante Exum. The draft-and-stash signee is one of three new Brazilians poised to enter the NBA, along with Marcelo Huertas of the Lakers and Cristiano Felicio of the Bulls. Felicio is the only one of the three who played professionally in Brazil last season. Neto and Huertas come from Spain, the country that funneled more players through its professional ranks to the NBA than any other this offseason.
Another Brazilian has a chance to make his NBA debut this year. Center Rafael Hettsheimeir reportedly worked out for the Spurs late last month. Others stand poised to enter the league in the near future. George Lucas, aka George de Paula, declared for the draft and had predraft workouts with a handful of NBA teams before withdrawing his name, and he’s No. 40 in Jonathan Givony’s DraftExpress 2016 mock. Three other Brazilians also entered the draft before withdrawing.
A decent chance exists that Brazil will boast a double-digit number of players on NBA rosters when the Olympic games begin in Rio in 2016. Many will no doubt will be playing for the Brazilian national team, an automatic qualifier for the Olympic basketball tournament. Time will tell if the influx of Brazilians to the NBA is a temporary phenomenon or the beginnings of a lasting pipeline of talent. For now, the NBA dances with increasing frequency to a samba beat.
List of Brazilian natives currently on NBA contracts:
- Leandro Barbosa, Warriors
- Bruno Caboclo, Raptors
- Cristiano Felicio, Bulls (rookie)
- Marcelo Huertas, Lakers (rookie)
- Nene, Wizards
- Raul Neto, Jazz (rookie)
- Lucas Nogueira, Raptors
- Tiago Splitter, Hawks
- Anderson Varejao, Cavaliers
Who do you think is the greatest Brazilian player of all time? Leave a comment to let us know.