If the last Toronto Raptors game you watched took place on the east coast, this column is going to come as something of a Rip Van Winkle-esque shock to you. Actually, scratch that. It’ll hit you like Rip Van Winkle waking up and immediately being concussed by an errant bowling pin.
A lot has happened with the Raptors over the past seven days, is my point.
Nevertheless, this is still the End of Bench Chronicles — even if, perhaps especially if, the team’s end-of-bench players are suddenly in the main rotation (or the starting lineup). Everything that has happened in the past week — injuries to four rotation players, a sense of discovery entirely out of proportion to what has come before — needs to be considered with care.
The happenings for the Raptors have been major, the trust meter is all over the place once again, and we need to settle on some new inspiration.
Eighth Man Title Holder
Trust Meter: 9 out of 10
Happenings: It was a close call, but if a player who had previously not gotten off the bench at all suddenly begins averaging the fifth most minutes per game on the whole team for a week, he climbs into the (de facto) Eighth Man spot.
Those are the rules, and that’s the deal with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson this week as he went from dutiful, useful reserve to (almost) starting small forward for Toronto. In that time he averaged 11.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game (second on the team), and at least a few dives to the floor per contest. In the process, he helped the Raptors slow Kawhi and created highlights like this:
Note that everything pretty in this sequence is being done by someone else. That’s as pure a distillation of Rondae’s effect on the Raptors as you’re likely to ever see.
Roster Roll Call
Trust Meter: N/A (but still high)
Happenings: What’s most fascinating now about Pat McCaw’s absence is what his return will mean for the players formerly behind him in the rotation. Does someone like Terence Davis (more on him next) suddenly go back to playing spot minutes? Really? Are McCaw’s defense and IQ so good that they trump his complete inability or desire to shoot? In all, I suppose it’s not a bad problem to have if you’re the Raptors.
Inspiration: Have they invented Bacta tanks yet?
Trust Meter: 7 out of 10
Happenings: The week started slowly for Davis with a donut against the Pelicans. But it slowly built to a 31-minute outing against the Blazers in which he shot 5-for-10 for 15 points with six rebounds. It was the kind of performance that had Portland’s play-by-play man Kevin Calabro extolling the out-of-nowhere confidence and ability of Davis. In truth, TD may only ever be a microwave/sixth man-type of player, but said confidence will suit him well regardless.
Inspiration: Davis should listen to his own inner monologue, the one that told him to yell “It’s OK, we got it coach” — which was picked up during the Lakers broadcast — before being subbed out for Fred VanVleet to finish the first quarter. Such chutzpah!
Trust Meter: 5 out of 10
Happenings: If not for a tragic 1-for-6 night against the Blazers on Wednesday night, we’d be looking at a 6-for-8 (or 75 percent) shooting line for Thomas — just about in line with preseason expectation. The thing here though might be that defenses have figured out how to limit his effectiveness: just force Thomas to move and watch those percentages drop.
Inspiration: If that’s the case, an idea presents itself: listen up!
Trust Meter: 1 out of 10
Happenings: Let’s see, Johnson barely got into the Pelicans game at all; Nick Nurse called a timeout rather than watch Johnson try to score in an isolation opportunity against Anthony Davis; and while he gave Kawhi trouble as recently as last season, Johnson couldn’t get off the bench vs. the Clippers. Oh yeah, and when he scored his lone bucket against Portland, the reaction was akin to the one a three-year-old gets after blowing out his birthday candles.
Inspiration: Not Joey Graham.
Trust Meter: 8 out of 10
Happenings: If not for Rondae’s unsteady brand of steadiness, Boucher would be the Raptors’ true eighth man this week. His 15-point career-high explosion against the Lakers may be an unrepeatable turn of events (though Boucher tried the very next night vs. the Clippers), but it was still wildly memorable. And it’s not often one player can say they blocked both LeBron James and Anthony Davis in a single game and have neither be the most memorable block from the week.
Inspiration: One of those old school Lego sets with the primary colour bricks used to build extremely practical items like cars and houses — this random Pinterist page sums it up nicely. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just functional.
Trust Meter: 1 out of 10
Happenings: Malcolm got the start in the Blazers game, played 7.5 minutes in the first quarter, missed one shot, dished one assist, and then... was never seen again.
Inspiration: In Ken Grimwood’s 1986 novel Replay, a man named Jeff Winston dies at 43 but wakes up in his 18-year-old body and has to relive the same 25-year window of his life. This keeps happening on a loop while the window gradually closes. That, unfortunately, is where the Raptors’ Miller finds himself now: the window is closing, but there’s still a chance he can make the most of his time here.
Trust Meter: 3 out of 10
Happenings: A 24-10-3 in his G League debut plus a call-up to the main squad thanks to injuries to Serge Ibaka and OG Anunoby. It’s not something to necessarily crow about, but at least Dewan got to take a trip out west and avoid some of the brutal weather here in Toronto.
Inspiration: The 905’s next game was supposed to be against the Westchester Knicks on November 9th. Instead, it was cancelled due to “unplayable court conditions.” If that’s not a good reason to work your way out of the G League, I don’t know what is.
Did the Two-Wayers Play?
And to quote Albert Burneko, formerly of Deadspin and something of an inspiration to me: this blog is over!