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End of Bench Chronicles: Toronto progresses to the norm

With just two games over the past seven days, but some huge changes to the roster, the end of the Raptors’ bench is beginning to fall back into their expected roles.

Toronto Raptors v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

That’s not some sort of play on words with Norman Powell in the title. He did return to the Raptors this week, and has been playing great, but what he — and Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol — represent for Toronto is a return to normalcy. For what’s felt like forever, the Raptors have been trotting out all kinds of wacky lineups, rotations we never could have expected or predicted when the season started. As a result, the team’s record has taken some weird deviations from, well, the norm.

Usually when that turn of phrase is used — regression to the norm — it’s meant as a negative. A player lights it up from deep, shooting 50+ plus percent for a week or two, surely he’ll regress to the norm of approximately 35 percent. That’s just what happens in the universe. In this case with the Raptors though, the return of their established rotation players signifies something else: progress. The Raptors are improving just by getting back to being whole. It’s a refreshing turn of events, even if it means fewer minutes for the players we’ve been writing rhapsodies about each week in this very space.

As always now, let’s try to figure out who’s been standing out from the end of the bench, and where each of those Raptors can go from here.

Eighth Man Title Holder

Terence Davis

Trust Meter: 7 out of 10

Happenings: You can tell there’s still a feeling of small-sample size theatre surrounding the play of Davis, as if the results still feel vaguely unreal. His two games this past week are evidence enough of that, and were also essentially night and day — an awful outing against the Spurs (zero points!), followed by a strong performance against the Thunder (12 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three steals). Davis was also second on the team in plus/minus (10.5) behind only the returned Gasol, which suggests his impact means something.

I only mention the idea of small-sample sizes because it often still feels like coach Nick Nurse doesn’t entirely trust Davis to make the right play all the time. That’s fair — Davis is sometimes too confident for his own good — but it’s also like: hey man, just let him play. The guy is ready to rock-and-roll.

Roster Roll Call

Patrick McCaw

Trust Meter: 8 out of 10

Happenings: Much to the amazement of many, McCaw is still getting many minutes with the Raptors, despite continuously finding himself at the bottom of the team’s plus/minus rankings. (He was a team-worst -11.5 for the week.) McCaw didn’t shoot particularly well (37.5 percent from the field), didn’t score much (eight points total), and only slung around seven assists in total (the same average as OG Anunoby) — but there he was in the gut-check moments of last night’s game against the Thunder anyway. Did it feel like McCaw was helping to give that game away in a major way? We turn now to our friend Jacob Mack to confirm.

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Inspiration: Today is director John Carpenter’s birthday, which may seem like an odd comparison to make to McCaw. The former is one of the world’s best directors, a legend who made a series of classic films, each one different from the last. (You could conceivably ask ten people for a list of their top five Carpenter films and get ten completely different answers.) Much like McCaw, he had some success early — but unlike him, Carpenter grew out his abilities and continued to surprise (in a good way!) throughout his long career. Pat should take note. (Oh, and happy birthday John!)

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Trust Meter: 7 out of 10

Happenings: Rondae is still a rotation player for the Raptors, and will likely remain as such regardless of the team’s relative health, but its obvious his role has taken a bit of a hit over the past week. Against the Spurs he did manage 18 minutes of chaos, during which he somehow shot 3-of-9 from the field (including one 3!) while grabbing six boards; against the Thunder, it was a quieter, faster turn, an ineffectual seven minutes playing behind the ultra-big lineup Toronto employed with Siakam, Serge Ibaka, and Gasol. Ah well.

Inspiration: For this, we turn to one of the all-time masters of chaos, John Bonham, and his feature song, the classic Led Zeppelin penultimate track from their second album, Moby Dick. It’s got a powerful groove which spins into a wild drum solo, and if you’ve seen any live performance from the band: you really have no idea where Bonham could take it.

Chris Boucher

Trust Meter: 5 out of 10

Happenings: Much like Hollis-Jefferson, it seems destined for Boucher to slide down the Raptors’ rotation now with the return of some other key players (namely, you know, their star Siakam). It also doesn’t help that Boucher may never properly recover from this:

DeRozan’s tech was rescinded by the way (it never should have been called in the first place), which means Boucher just has to dust himself off and try again tomorrow. (He did not appear in the Raptors’ next game against the Thunder so we don’t yet know how that will look.)

Inspiration: Since I feel like Boucher continues to draw inspiration from himself, here’s my highlight of the week:

To be clear, Boucher was just joking around, but I respect the energy.

Matt Thomas

Trust Meter: 3 out of 10

Happenings: It’s unfortunate that Thomas hurt his hand when he did because he likely stood to benefit quite a bit in the absence of Fred VanVleet. He’s not a steadfast point guard like FVV, but he has some ball-handling and play-making skills — plus, he is a dead-eyed shooter. For his efforts this week, Thomas managed just one appearance, going 2-for-6 from the field and attempting just one shot from within the three-point line.

Inspiration: It’s that shot that I’m drawn to here, suggesting as it does Thomas’ ability to use the threat of his shooting to generate bankers/leaners/floaters on the move. The most Rec League Energy play for him, one that I hope inspires Thomas (to say nothing of the legions of shorter semi-athletic white guys out there) is that goofy floater he tried against the Spurs. It almost worked, which is what I tell myself every time I try it too.

Stanley Johnson

Trust Meter: 1 out of 10

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Happenings: Nothing at all for Johnson this week, and Hackett’s piece from earlier today reminded me that we are likely to go through another year of this with our man Stan.

Inspiration: Not Joey Graham.

Malcolm Miller

Trust Meter: 1 out of 10

Happenings: Miller doesn’t have any trade value. His skills aren’t drawing any eyeballs, and his contract doesn’t provide any real monetary ballast. But it does feel like of the Raptors are going to make some moves at the trade deadline, they may decide to cut bait on Miller, despite their years long investment. Nothing is in the works or anything, but it definitely feels like Miller’s time in Toronto is coming to an end in some shape or form.

Inspiration: Miller should get mad and make some demands. I’m not saying he needs to storm the court, but if/when he does get on it, it’s time to exercise some fury. Show’em why they need you, Malc! If I’m thinking about the recent news of the Ontario teachers strike, or potentially that of CUPE (my union), well, I can’t confirm or deny those allegations. Still, solidarity.

Dewan Hernandez

Trust Meter: 1 out of 10

Happenings: Not a single thing.

Inspiration: Let’s go with the Where’s Waldo? books by Martin Handford, the most inexplicably successful series of books I can recall. The main character is good at hiding in plain sight, which fits the bill here. Let’s hope Dewan has that kind of staying power.

Did the Two-Wayers Play?

Oshae Brissett put in a brief 3-minute appearance against the Spurs but was not able to conjure up any of his usual hustling magic. That’s better than Shamorie Ponds though, as by the end of the week he had been cut loose by the Raptors as a two-way player to make room for Paul Watson.

If you’ve been following the 905 at all this season, you’ve likely heard Watson’s name. He recently had a 10-day cup of coffee with the Hawks before being re-released to the G League. This time, however, the Raptors couldn’t pass him up. He’s a locked in two-way player now. We’ll see if he manages to have an impact in Toronto proper at all.

And one last time: good luck and godspeed to Ponds.