There’s no way to dress it up and make it any better. Troy Caupain is going to have a tough road if he wants to play in the NBA. The all-time assists leader at Cincinnati was invited to participate in Summer League with the Toronto Raptors after he went undrafted last Thursday night. Caupain was not considered an upper echelon draft prospect, so it wasn’t all that surprising.
An invite to Summer League is an opportunity and nothing more. It is not a guaranteed contract or a roster spot. As we saw recently with Sean Kilpatrick, being in this situation does not mean that you cannot make it to the big show. Kilpatrick, who somehow went undrafted despite being an All-American as a senior, played in the Summer League and signed a series of a 10-day contracts from 2014 to 2016 before finally getting a legitimate deal with the Brooklyn Nets. He got there by learning to shoot with more efficiency and rebound and defend at a higher level. Those are all things that Caupain will have to do if he hopes to follow in Kilpatrick’s footsteps.
However, there is another NBA player that may provide an even better blueprint to success and that is Malcolm Brogdon of the Milwaukee Bucks. The former Virginia Cavalier was drafted in the second round of the 2016 NBA Draft and last night became the unlikely winner of the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award. It is certainly a surprising career trajectory for a second-round pick, as many players from that area never end up making a major impact at the NBA level, if they make one at all. But Brogdon spat in the face of that trend, playing in 75 games for the Milwaukee Bucks while averaging 10.2 points and 4.2 assists per game on 45.7 percent shooting. He also developed into a consistently dangerous three-point shooter, knocking down just over 40 percent from deep.
But what does this have to do with Caupain? Let me explain.
Although the two players are not exactly the same, with Brogdon standing at 6’5 and in possession of a 13.3 points per game scoring average in college, the two do share some similarities in their style of play. Both were coached by some of the premier defensive minds in the college game, with Brogdon studying under the tutelage of Tony Bennett, who has orchestrated a top 10 team in adjusted defensive efficiency in each of the last four seasons.
As both players were forged in the flames of defense-first basketball, they produced similarly on the defensive end of the floor, with Brogdon managing a career defensive rating of 94, which is within reach of Caupain’s 96.2. While Caupain is nowhere near the scorer, both in terms of efficiency and production, as Brogdon was during his ACC Player of the Year campaign in 2015-16, he was a better distributor in college, averaging 8.1 assists per 100 possessions to Brogdon’s 5.3.
Playing for the Bucks, Brogdon was asked to be more of a facilitator than perhaps he was used to, as players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Greg Monroe and Khris Middleton (after his return from injury) ate up more of the scoring chances.
Should Caupain work his way onto an actual NBA roster, he would excel in a similar role, as he has already shown the ability to defend and pass well. The Raptors feature two 20-point scorers in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, so Caupain could very easily become a pass and D player, especially if he can work on and improve his efficiency from three-point range.
In all honesty, Caupain is fighting an uphill battle when it comes to making the NBA. Even though he has come very close, he is still further away than the 60 players taken in the NBA Draft and others beside that. However, Brogdon showed that a defensively tough guard who can learn to move the ball and defend can really make an impact in the league. Caupain should be using that as a road map.