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End of Bench Chronicles: We look to the past to help the Raptors

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With just one win over the past seven days, the Raptors and their bench unit are looking for answers. Fortunately, the recent past has an ample supply.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s just say this off the top: I understand the impulse to connect the returns of Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka with the Raptors’ sudden swoon. Since getting back one and then both of their established players, Toronto has: (a) put up 77 points in a half, (b) lost four out of five games, (c) just barely beaten the terrible Chicago Bulls. I myself will not be putting on the tinfoil hat, but again, I understand.

Still, correlation doesn’t always mean causality — or is that the other way around? The point here is that the Raptors have me all sorts of confused right now. And that’s before we address whatever the hell is happening with the end of their bench, a group suddenly less steady and far more injury-ridden. The Chronicles are in dire need of an update because, well, it’s time to take stock of where we really are.

To help us out this week, our inspiration is going to take a Kawhi Leonard-based inflection. There is no more inspiring figure in the annals of Raptors history. He came, he saw, he conquered — and then, yes, he left. Still, if you were a marginal NBA player, you could do worse but to look to Kawhi as to how to carry yourself and be your best version. Let’s get to it.

Eighth Man Title Holder

Tie: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Terence Davis

Trust Meter: 7 out of 10 for both

Happenings: The numbers for both are comically close right now, so we’re keeping the tie again this week. Davis is up 0.1 in minutes per game, and 0.2 in points, but he didn’t quite seize the day in Fred VanVleet’s absence. Meanwhile, Hollis-Jefferson actually hit a three (his first of the season) — despite being one of the few players on the team without the greenlight to let fly from deep — but his well-intentioned frenzy on defense hasn’t translated into wins. Davis looked solid enough against the Clips, while Rondae helped stir a minor comeback against the Sixers — both losses. It’s all still a draw.

The main takeaway here though is something else: after a month of getting 20+ minutes per game, both Davis and RHJ are back in the mid-teens in minutes, and not even FVV’s current absence will likely change that. This is who the Raptors are now.

Roster Roll Call

Patrick McCaw

Trust Meter: 5 out of 10

Happenings: After missing over a month of action, McCaw finally returned to the court for the Raptors and continued his run of, well, just being there. In just under ten minutes of play against the Clippers: 0-for-2, zero points, rebounds, and assists, a turnover, and two fouls. It’s early, but I still don’t see it. Sorry Pat!

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Inspiration: Kawhi is a two-time NBA champion, but McCaw is a three-time champion. Like everything else involved in the latter’s current career, this doesn’t make any sense. Does... does McCaw inspire Kawhi here or what?

Matt Thomas

Trust Meter: 1 out of 10

Happenings: Nothing. Still injured.

Inspiration: Props to Thomas for sticking with the Iceman nickname. It suits him, in a way. But he can’t yet touch the sub-zero blood running through Kawhi’s veins. If Thomas is zero degress celsius, Leonard has some Kelvin-scale mojo.

Stanley Johnson

Trust Meter: 1 out of 10

Happenings: Nothing. Still injured.

Inspiration: Not Joey Graham. (More Kawhi Leonard.)

Chris Boucher

Trust Meter: 5 out of 10

Happenings: Upon Ibaka’s return, it was obvious to suggest that Boucher’s minutes would be significantly cut. Since then, Boucher has played less than 10 minutes in four of the Raptors’ previous five games as a selectively used power forward. His fit with Ibaka is a bit rough, and he hasn’t done a ton to earn more playing time despite the burst of excitement around him in mid-November.

Still, Ibaka has been, uh, bad since his return. The nadir, of course, was his truly awful game last night against the Clippers, an 0-for game in search of some sort of punchline. Watching Serge last night, I suddenly understand the demands for the return of Boucher to prominence. I don’t think he’s a better player than Ibaka, but man, when the Raps veteran is off, he is way off.

Inspiration: For some reason, maybe given his absolutely reckless confidence, I’m going to assign Boucher The Shot as his source of inspiration this week. It was a totally unlikely thing to have happened and Boucher finding a way to stick in the league fits that narrative. (Sure, the, uh, relative significance between one and the other is a bit different in terms of scale, but still.)

Malcolm Miller

Trust Meter: 2 out of 10

Happenings: A total of nine minutes of court time came for Miller this week, but still not a ton of production. The Raptors were definitely searching against Chicago — as they fought and clawed for every inch of that win on the second night of a back-to-back — but Miller was only able to provide a couple rebounds and a block.

Inspiration: Remember that moment against the Pistons last year when the ball was in Kawhi’s hands with the game on the line and he drove to his spot along the right baseline and just... dribbled it off his foot out of bounds? That moment in and of itself should not inspire Miller, but the fact that Kawhi just carried onto the next game definitely should.

Dewan Hernandez

Trust Meter: 1 out of 10

Happenings: No run for Dewan this week. He’s been hustling with the 905 instead.

Inspiration: All I can really recommend here for Dewan is to remember the following wise refrain from Kawhi: just have fun with it.

Did the Two-Wayers Play?

Nope! We have to draw the line somewhere.