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End of Bench Chronicles: Welcome to the Boucher Ball

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There were other players who got more minutes on Toronto this past week, but Chris Boucher was the Raptors’ most electrifying player off the bench.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

This week saw the Raptors play four games and in the process go 2-2. During that time they swung a huge franchise-record comeback, got to play on Christmas Day at home, and continued to stave off implosion by injury. I know it’s tempting to wonder what the point is here for the Raps if most of their core squad — including their most talented player in Pascal Siakam — is indefinitely hurt. But then we watch what happens when their championship heart (which should never be underestimated) starts beating, and it makes more sense.

Still, Toronto’s roster continues to be a bit, uh, lopsided. They could use another big man, another wing, maybe another guard too. As has been pointed elsewhere, every game is going to need a comeback when their best two-way player is out — the Raps just have to work so hard to score. If this season continues to coast sideways it’ll likely prompt a “what could have been” narrative, which would not be unfair. But that also misses the point a tad.

Because the flipside, of course, is it has blasted the door wide open for players to surprise us. This column started as a way of monitoring the dribs and drabs of minutes some of the more (presumably) lightly used Raptors would be perceived as the season progressed. Now we’re out here documenting the rotation, full stop. It’s been quite a run — so let’s resume.

Eighth Man Title Holder

Chris Boucher

Trust Meter: 7 out of 10

Happenings: Yes, Boucher had a mere small role to play in Toronto’s win over Washington, and he probably played a minute or two too many against the Pacers (especially when Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner started to expose him down low), but he also defined the week for the Raptors. Most of the events of the past seven days lie in the shadow of two moments: the 30-point comeback vs. Dallas — in which Boucher anchored the team’s full-court press by appearing to be in two places at once — and the Christmas Day game vs. Boston — in which he put up a career-best 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting (including 3-of-4 from three). That’s resume building stuff right there.

For a player whose lone calling card upon entering the season was shot blocking (Boucher had eight blocks in the past week), it’s been encouraging to see Chris do more on the floor in an NBA game. Size and strength will likely always be a problem for him, but he’s not afraid of getting after it, which is a skill that may actually be harder to learn. For that, this week, Boucher gets the nod.

Roster Roll Call

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Trust Meter: 7 out of 10

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Happenings: Does it feel weird to dock Hollis-Jefferson here, despite the fact he was indeed the fifth-most useful player for Toronto? Perhaps. Especially since RHJ seemed to get back in the good graces of his head coach Nick Nurse and the general tenets of the Raps’ schemes. For all that, what did Rondae get? A kick to the head by Serge Ibaka (somehow!) and a brutal fall on the back thanks to an undercut move from Sabonis. It’s been rough. But did that slow RHJ down? Not at all — he drilled his FTs after hitting the deck, then came back down the floor and blocked Turner. The point here is: Rondae is going to keep going.

Inspiration: The Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Rondae may come out on the losing end of a confrontation, but he’s going to give it all he’s got.

Terence Davis

Trust Meter: 5 out of 10

Happenings: More of a quiet week for Davis, though he did factor into that Mavericks comeback and seemed almost stunned afterwards to be answering questions about it. He’s also been battling some sort of cold or sore throat for at least a few days, so it’s been remarkable to see him plugging away as it is. Despite starting the week well at 4-of-6 from three in two games, Davis went 2-of-9 for the next two, sticking with what he knows he can do and essentially refusing to go away — even if it’s not working. It’s hard not to root for a positive outcome here as the ups and downs continue.

Inspiration: There’s a bit of a Sisyphean feel to Davis’ year so far. He rolls the ball up the mountain only to see it go down a bit (or a lot) and then he does something to move it back up again. Not to put too much pressure on him, but the hope here is obviously that he progresses like Siakam and Fred VanVleet before him: do a few nice things here and there, learn, grow, and then explode into something else. Looking to Sisyphus is at least a good start.

Matt Thomas

Trust Meter: 1 out of 10

Happenings: Still nothing, except...

Inspiration: There’s nothing more I can add here.

Stanley Johnson

Trust Meter: 2 out of 10

Happenings: A Stanley Johnson play in two acts. First, the inciting incident:

Then the all-to-sudden denouement:

I really do wish I could make this stuff up. (Still, kudos to Johnson for popping up in the Christmas game in garbage time and scoring six points from lay-ups. He did get another kick at the can after all, and that’s not bad after a super-long layoff.)

Inspiration: Not Joey Graham.

Patrick McCaw

Trust Meter: 7 out of 10

Happenings: Yes, there’s an argument to be made that McCaw is the only option the Raptors have given their depleted lineup. Davis maybe isn’t ready, Johnson has been a mess, and there’s just no one else who can bring that mix of ball-handling and defensive versatility to the Raptors right now. Someone has to play those minutes.

Nevertheless! McCaw still just sort of... is. My notes for the week include the highlights: vs. the Mavs he actually opened the game with a pair of 3s, a steal, some play in transition. If you’ll recall he hit a back-breaking the Wizards last week too (this after he got called for an unforced travel late in the game). But it’s hard not to note that McCaw’s minutes don’t seem to do a lot for the Raptors. He played 32 against Boston on Christmas and all we got was one bucket (on five shots) and zero assists. If McCaw was indeed a defensive whiz, this could be justifiable — but Tony Allen he is not. I don’t know what else to say.

Inspiration: Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, a book that was much-lauded for a few years and now is, well, it just is. Use that as fuel, Pat — you must avoid that fate!

Malcolm Miller

Trust Meter: 5 out of 10

Happenings: We’ll give Miller a big boost this week because of his full-court press utility. Big Mac isn’t necessarily looking to shoot — and sadly when he did vs. the Mavs, his time to shine, they didn’t go in — but he is looking to play with purpose. It’s the only way to justify playing Miller at all, really, since he just spent another week going entirely scoreless. (His last points came almost a month ago in a sudden bunch on Nov. 27 against the Knicks — 13 in 13 minutes.)

Still, I was in the locker room after that Mavs game and to see Miller peppered with questions about his role in the team’s full-court press comeback was heartwarming to see. It takes a lot of know-how and effort to get a press to actually work, so props to Miller to having a part in it.

Inspiration: Since Miller has me in good spirits, I’ll share my favourite meme of the week, which, I admit, is a tad grim in tone — even though we know how the story associated with it ends.

Dewan Hernandez

Trust Meter: 1 out of 10

Happenings: Dewan is in a walking boot now, so there’s not much to report here.

Inspiration: Maybe he could just talk with Daisy Ridley’s Rey and — no, you know what, no more Star Wars. Moving on!

Did the Two-Wayers Play?

Despite the Raptors’ lack of active players this past week, we did not see much of Oshae Brissett or Shamorie Ponds at all for Toronto. On Christmas Day, Oshae did get a few minutes of run against Boston, which is cool since he’s a Toronto guy, but there’s not much to report on there.

No, the highlight was actually their absence. Let me explain: before the Dallas game coach Nurse mentioned that we’re likely to see Brissett get some run because the team needed something on the wing — some defense, some scoring punch, some fresh legs if nothing else. Of course, the comeback started without Oshae and there was obviously going to be no way to get him in the game. Afterwards, through the euphoria, the question was jokingly in the air — not to be asked, to be clear — thanks to the Athletic’s Eric Koreen: “Coach, why didn’t you get Brissett in there?” I had to chuckle.