Hawks rookie center Lucas Nogueira averaged 6.4 points, six rebounds and 2.4 blocks in five games in the Las Vegas Summer League.
ATLANTA — The Hawks face a tough decision. They can return Lucas Nogueira, their first-round draft pick, to Spain to develop his on-court skills.
Or they can keep the 7-foot center in the United States to oversee the addition of much-needed bulk to his wiry frame.
In Spain, the native Brazilian is playing professionally against a high level of competition. The Hawks have been impressed with Nogueira’s improved skills since he drew attention at the 2011 Hoop Summit.
There are still areas for the 20 year old to develop his game, which will be aided by consistent playing time.
In the United States, the 225-pounder would play little and could suffer a setback in his development.
Until he gets stronger, Nogueira will be hard-pressed to compete with NBA centers. He has had trouble with the physical nature of games during the team’s Las Vegas Summer League appearances against draftees and free agents trying to get a training camp invite.
In addition, to keep the unsigned Nogueira here, the Hawks must negotiate a buyout with his team in Spain.
The Hawks spent $550,000 to get fellow first-round pick Dennis Schroder out of his German contract. Nogueira figures to command a bigger payout. A signing would start the clock on the Hawks’ rights to the center while he is still developing his game.
Nogueira knows the situation.
“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. ... 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.”
In summer league action, Nogueira is averaging 6.4 points, six rebounds, 2.4 blocks in 21.8 minutes. Nogueira had a .625 shooting percentage and showed an ability to get tips and dunks near the rim. Defensively, his strength has been a liability.
“I want to be strong,” Nogueira said. “Right now, I think it’s my big problem in the (summer) league because every center is so big and strong and a problem to defend. In the future, I need to get pounds. It’s no problem to me.”
Nogueira continued: “Technical play, the first-league team in Spain is better than the NBA summer league. But in summer league and NBA, every team is very athletic, very physical. Everybody plays physical. The first game, Clippers, physical. The second game, Heat, very physical. The third game, the Spurs, very technical and physical. Everybody is physical in the U.S. But it’s my first tournament in the U.S. I think in the future I will get better.”
As for areas of improvement, the 16th overall pick in last month’s NBA draft said he wants to be better at running the floor, offensive and defensive rebounds, protecting the rim and getting blocked shots.
“It’s good to see our young players play,” Hawks general manager Danny Ferry said about the team’s draft picks after several summer league games. “You certainly see some very intriguing, exciting things, but you also see room for growth.”
What the Hawks do have is a gregarious young man who speaks three languages -- Portugese, Spanish and quickly improving English. He left Brazil as a 17-year old, just three years after he started playing the game. He switched from playing soccer to basketball at the urging of friends due to his height. He said he quickly developed a passion for the game because of its competitiveness.
Nogueira was adopted by the family that his biological mother worked for as a maid in Brazil. He embraces his background. He became the baby of the family with much older siblings. When a family friend picked up the large child, he called the boy ‘Bebe Gigant,’ which translates to Baby Giant. The name stuck and became even more apt as Nogueira grew -- more than six inches between the ages of 14 and 15.
Now, the start of Nogueira’s NBA career may depend on when he grows into his body.