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Why Terence Davis could be a perfect fit with the Raptors

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Undrafted free agent Terence Davis has an aptitude in dribble handoff sets that could allow him to make an immediate impact with the defending champs.

2019 Las Vegas Summer League - Day 8 - Philadelphia 76ers v Toronto Raptors Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

I think to start this article I should explain the series of reads that players will need to make throughout a dribble handoff play. Typically, to start a DHO, a big will catch the ball near the top of the key and begin to dribble towards the wing. The intended shot taker for the play, for the sake of convenience we’ll call them “TD”, typically starts in the corner. Right as the big begins to dribble towards the wing, TD has to make his first read. If the defense overplays, and pre-emptively adjusts to the dribble handoff play by cutting off TD’s path to the ball, rather than obstructing his path to the basket, then TD has to punish that by taking the open lane and cutting to the rim.

If the defense stays straight up, then TD runs along the 3-point line towards the ball and takes the handoff. The big giving the handoff then sets a screen on any pursuing defenders, who, because they played straight up rather than pre-empting the handoff, are likely trailing a few steps behind TD. It’s here that TD has to make his next read, reacting to how the defense chooses to approach the screen. If they go under the screen then TD sets his feet and shoots an open 3.

And if they pursue over the screen then TD will need to make a read as though in side-pick-and-roll. If the opposing big sits back in the paint then TD will curl off the screen and look for a window to get his own shot off, likely a floater or midrange pull-up. If the opposing big steps up to the level of the screen, then TD will need to find their own big slipping to the basket.

This play is an important one for the Raptors, because it leverages some of Marc Gasol’s biggest strengths. It puts Gasol in a position where he’s able to survey the floor, identifying players who have gotten open off of movement, and dime-ing them up with his exceptional passing ability. Gasol’s ability to improvise from the top of the key is a genuinely unique skill. Raptors’ fans will surely remember this play, in which the likely intended recipient of a DHO, Kyle Lowry, made a half-speed cut after being overplayed by Eric Bledsoe, a cut which resulted in nothing. Kawhi Leonard approached the ball from the opposite side, likely wanting to initiate a high-pick-and-roll now that the DHO set was blown up. Gasol had other ideas. Leonard’s path to the ball was being overplayed by Khris Middleton, leaving him with an open lane to cut to the basket. Gasol directed him towards that lane by pointedly nodding, and the rest was history.

The ease with which the Lowry DHO fizzled, however, is instructive for the Raptors heading into next year, a year in which they might be hard-pressed to find capable DHO recipients. A DHO recipient needs to possess four baseline skills: (1) they need to be able to shoot, to prevent the defender from going under the screen, (2) they need to possess the in-between game to make a shot if given a window on their curl, (3) they need to be able to find their big if they are trapped at the point of the screen, and (4) they need to be an explosive finisher, so as to deny any defender who overplays the DHO a chance to recover and block their cutting finish. Lowry has the first three traits, but Bledsoe is able to erase this DHO by overplaying it because Lowry, given his lack of size and explosion, would likely give Bledsoe, or a help defender, time to recover and block his cut.

And if you look up and down the Raptors’ roster, you’ll find that many players are in a similar spot to Lowry, lacking one or two of the skills needed to be effective in this play-type. Norman Powell lacks the in-between game, Pascal Siakam can’t shoot it well enough from above the break, Fred VanVleet, like Lowry, is too small and too ground-bound to be an effective cutter.

There is, however, at least one player on the Raptors who possesses the necessary skill-set. Recently signed undrafted free agent Terence Davis, the aforementioned “TD” who figured in all of the DHO footage used at the beginning of this article. Davis almost functioned as a DHO specialist for the Raptors in Summer League, as the Raptors ran the set over and over for him, and Davis rewarded them by torching Summer League defenses, mostly by cutting as the defense overplayed.

Davis’s skill as a cutter is obvious, he cuts hard, reads mistakes by the defense immediately, and is an explosive finisher at the basket. Still, these plays will be less common at the next level, where defenses are smarter. Even if his volume of cuts diminish at the next level however, Davis has the necessary skills to work through the rest of a DHO. He’s a confident shooter, with a quick, clean looking release, and he showcased excellent touch on floaters with the Raptors in Summer League, which would make him useful on curls.

His aptitude in DHO sets is just one reason that Davis should be a good fit with the Raptors, however. Davis gives the Raptors another ball-handler with excellent pace, someone who can push in transition and make reads on the fly. With Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry as their main offensive engines this Raptors’ team figures to get out and run a whole lot, and Davis would help play into that.

Davis should also allow the Raptors to maintain their defensive identity. Davis posted elite steal and block numbers for a guard throughout Summer League and during his time at Ole Miss in college. He’s an elite athlete who plays with exceptional intensity, frequently picking up full-court. Last year, the Raptors were a team that thrived due, in large part, to their ability to put five above average defenders on the floor consistently. That’s something they seem to be looking to continue with the signings of Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. If Davis’ defense translates from the college and Summer League levels then he should be able to be a part of that.

Having high expectations for an undrafted free agent seems like a fool’s errand, but I believe that with Davis, the Raptors have not only snagged someone who never should have gone undrafted in the first place, they’ve also acquired a player with a skill-set that should be an excellent fit with their roster. To be clear, Davis is not a perfect player. He struggles to get to the line, stopping short of the help on his drives. While he’s fast in the open floor, he’s likely to initially struggle if asked to create off the dribble in the halfcourt, a concern, as he lacks true wing size at 6’4”. He’s also more of a volume shooter than a dead-eye marksman, having shot only 34 percent from three-point range over the course of his college career (though he improved substantially in his senior year).

Still, the Raptors have a need for what Davis does, and they also have a talented enough roster that he shouldn’t be asked to step outside of his comfort zone. This should help ease Davis’ transition to the NBA, and, as such, I’m excited to see if Davis’ can be the rare undrafted rookie who comes in and makes an immediate impact.