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End of Bench Chronicles: What can’t these guys do for the Raptors?

Once again, it feels like the Raptors can’t help but beat every team that’s put in front of them. Toronto’s stars are shining, and the bench players are right there with them.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Atlanta Hawks Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

To a certain extent, it feels impossible for the Raptors to feel as confident as they do. Yes, the core pillars on the team who are currently playing — namely Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol — are unflappable, having won a title and all that. But how does that explain everyone else down the roster falling in line as they have? Again, to a certain extent, the mind boggles.

In truth, the conception of this column was born from the idea that the Raptors’ end of bench players would go on a journey this season, one filled with ups and downs, peaks and valleys, apperances and disappearances. It’s what so often separates starters, or rotation players, from the names down the line. You need them to fill minutes and specific roles, sure, but you can’t necessarily count on them every single night. If you could, well, they wouldn’t be in those minutes or those roles. It makes for a varied narrative, if nothing else.

Except, as of late, the narrative hasn’t varied! With multiple Raptors still injured, Toronto’s bench unit keeps playing their collective heart out and helping the squad win games. At this point, End of Bench Chronicles should be an inspiration... to us.

Eighth Man Title Holder

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Trust Meter: 10 out of 10

Happenings: We’re going the whole 10 right now because the take I’ve been waiting for has finally be put out into the world: Really, the Nets couldn’t have used what Hollis-Jefferson was giving them? Brooklyn is currently 9-9 and essentially sitting out the year while Kevin Durant heals. The Kyrie Express is already steering them off the edge of the world. They play on a weird-as-hell Pleasantville court. And you’re telling me they didn’t want RHJ’s 11.7 points and 7.7 rebounds in a crisp 26 minutes per game (this week), plus stifling defense on every player possible?

Honestly, if you’re a Nets fan, first I’m sorry to hear it, and second, every time you see Rondae sneak along the baseline to receive another dump-off pass for a lay-up you really have to question what it is you’re doing with your sports fan passion.

Roster Roll Call

Patrick McCaw

Trust Meter: N/A

Happenings: He’s feeling good, which is nice to hear.

Inspiration: You see the recent Godzilla: King of the Monsters movie? In it, a character played by Vera Farmiga has an idea to save the planet and it involves letting loose some big-ass monsters. She immediately recognizes her mistake. I’m not saying McCaw is a monster, but I do wonder just how much chaos energy this Raptors squad can take. Let’s not Godzilla ourselves here!

Terence Davis

Trust Meter: 9 out of 10

Happenings: It was just a steady incline this week for Davis — six points, 11 points, 15 points. There was never really a question as to whether he would get things done on the court, even when he wasn’t quite getting things done on the court. (His aspirationally airballed three against the Hawks did provoke a chuckle from me.) Meanwhile, in a game as pressure packed as their showdown with the Sixers, it’s telling that Davis could be counted on to play 20 minutes and give Fred VanVleet a breather down the stretch. One gets the feeling these entries will begin to look very similar as far as Davis is concerned.

Inspiration: Are you familiar with the work of the dearly departed Ricky Jay? Depending on what you look for on a screen, he was not a particularly noteworthy actor — a bit flat in his delivery, not particularly good looking, etc. And yet, he amassed 41 screen credits to his name. That’s because of what was innate within him: a cool confidence so strong as to be overwhelming. Also, great hands.

Matt Thomas

Trust Meter: 2 out of 10

Happenings: Only one game for Thomas this week as it turns out he broke a bone in his hand during pre-game shootaround in Atlanta. He proceeded to play in that game and shoot 1-for-3 from the floor — a very un-Thomas outcome. Also, is it wild that he’s shooting just 60 percent from the free throw line? (What’s that? It’s a small sample size of five shots? Moving on!)

Inspiration: TSN’s Josh Lewenberg reported on Thomas’ attire on Wednesday night:

But I have to disagree with his assessment here. Thomas, like all NBA players, must look to Joey Tribbiani — not Chandler — for their inspiration. Shoot your shot, play with an almost dumb level of resolve, and never question yourself. (Meanwhile, us writers covering the team, could we be any more like Chandler?)

Stanley Johnson

Trust Meter: 1 out of 10

Happenings: Oh, you know, nothing really.

Inspiration: Not Joey Graham (or a cybertruck guy).

Chris Boucher

Trust Meter: 8 out of 10

Happenings: I think we have to admit that Chris Boucher is a truly insane rebounder. It just feels like a guy of his frame — no matter his reach or leaping ability — should not be able to pull down 3.7 offensive boards per game for a week. On the season, Boucher is averaging 5.1 rebounds and half (2.5) are on the offensive end. The force of his ability is strong enough that even coach Nick Nurse has started buying into the idea of crashing the glass more. It’s something most NBA coaches back off from so as to maintain their transition defense, and yet, there’s Boucher (and his disciples on the bench) diving in for another try at the ball.

Inspiration: Prior to the Knicks game, Davis and Boucher worked on their pick-and-roll moves together. The latter definitely benefits from that kind of structure — though if this was a buddy cop movie (or any buddy comedy, really), Boucher would definitely be the wilder figure. He’s Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon or Charles Grodin in Midnight Run or Eddie Murphy in 48 Hrs. What will he do next?

Malcolm Miller

Trust Meter: 2 out of 10

Happenings: Signs of life from Miller? After taking an assignment to the G League with the 905, big Mac was back with the full squad on Wednesday night against the Knicks and made sure to make his presence known. In just shy of 13 minutes, Miller put in 13 points, with four 3s. Not bad.

Inspiration: Hawkeye, but the Matt Fraction version where he just hangs around Brooklyn solving local problems.

Dewan Hernandez

Trust Meter: 2 out of 10

Happenings: Dewan is hurt! Oh no!

Inspiration: Chuang Tzu’s story The Useless Tree. Just think about it.

Did the Two-Wayers Play?

Thanks to the Knicks, who provide some of the garbagiest garbage time there is, both Oshae Brissett and Shamorie Ponds got to play this week for the Raptors. And for the latter, it was his full-on NBA debut.

How bad are the Knicks? In six minutes, having never stepped onto an NBA court, Ponds had four points, two assists, and a rebound. It’s just too bad his first pro bucket came when Mitchell Robinson, thinking he was in Game 7 of the Finals, came over to swat Ponds’ lay-up after it had clearly hit the backboard for the goaltend. Ah well, congrats to Shamorie!