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End of Bench Chronicles: Welcome to the new year

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The Raptors are still injured, which means their bench churn continues to be a sight to see. What did we witness as 2019 ticked over to 2020? Let’s review.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Raptors are still just so hobbled as a team. It can be easy to forget how dire the situation is because, well, Toronto keeps winning games and holding their spot in the conference. The Raps enter 2020 at 23-11 and in fourth place, which is still quite good. But yeah, they’d definitely be much happier as an organization if three of their most important players — including their central star! — could come back yesterday.

For our purposes, we continue to figure out how exactly this bench unit for the Raptors will fit together. It’s become something of a puzzle, the starting lineup constantly changing, minutes flying up and down, unsung names — almost literally — coming out of the woodwork to put in some good work. Yes, we’d like the Raptors to be fully healthy too, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t rooting for the guys down on the end of the bench.

Let’s hear it.

Eighth Man Title Holder

Patrick McCaw

Trust Meter: 9 out of 10

Happenings: After a disappointing 32-minute outing on Christmas Day, I went on the radio to speak on McCaw’s inability to really make much of an impact on a basketball game. I referred to it as “slander” on Twitter, but my commentary was milder than that. Like many of you, I just didn’t see McCaw doing that much out there, even though he was definitely trying to do something.

But then McCaw put in 42 minutes that evening, along with 18 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, and 8-of-12 shooting (including 2-of-4 from three). He looked, in a word, possessed. It was the kind of performance we didn’t really know McCaw had in him, even as his coach Nick Nurse has continued to sing his praises. Since they Pat hasn’t quite reached those heights again, but he’s still knocking down threes, which has us feeling some kind of way.

Roster Roll Call

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Trust Meter: 7 out of 10

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Happenings: Rondae went out and had one of the worst three-minute stretches of his Raptors career, grabbing a few boards and three fouls before disappearing forever against the Thunder, and followed it up with an appearance in the starting lineup (he dropped 14-5 in 27 minutes). If nothing else, Hollis-Jefferson has shown a remarkable ability to just keep rolling with whatever is happening — getting kicked in the head, getting benched, getting to start, and on and on into the new year.

Inspiration: All the millions of lists and rankings out there right now, for 2019 and for the decade. Rondae should store away all the good things he’s done so when he gets benched again (it’ll happen) and can recall that he brings positives to this (or any) team.

Chris Boucher

Trust Meter: 6 out of 10

Happenings: The usual smattering of points and rebounds, with a couple blocks, but also Boucher went out and dunked it like that:

I think my favourite parts are the little somersault Boucher does afterwards and Dewan Hernandez’s apoplectic reaction. Everyone is having a good time.

Inspiration: Too easy: Cirque du Soleil, of course!

Terence Davis

Trust Meter: 6 out of 10

Happenings: Yes, Davis should have fouled Shai Gilgeous-Alexander when he had the chance, 13 seconds or so left with the Raptors down one. They needed to stop the clock against OKC and get the ball back, even if it meant being down by as many as three. He didn’t, Toronto didn’t, and that was that. Still, Davis was in the game and helped Toronto stay in it. He messed up but then went out and put up a career-high 19 points (the second time he’s done that this season) against the awful Cavaliers. The important thing here: Davis learned, he didn’t let it destroy him, he came back.

Inspiration: The Iron Giant, and I’m talking the cartoon movie here not the Ted Hughes short story. A much loved figure that Giant, and he had to learn a thing or two before fulfilling his destiny. (Ideally Davis won’t have to fly directly into a nuclear bomb, but you get my point here.)

Matt Thomas

Trust Meter: 1 out of 10

Happenings: Nothing.

Inspiration: Man, my dislocated finger — which happened while playing basketball, of course — is also still not healed and I’m extremely unhappy about it. I don’t have to worry about losing my shooting touch (or any money) like Thomas, but I would like to be able to make a fist again. Matt, let’s stay healthy in 2020.

Stanley Johnson

Trust Meter: 1 out of 10

Happenings: Back to the back of the line for Stanley. Yikes.

Inspiration: Not Joey Graham.

Malcolm Miller

Trust Meter: 2 out of 10

Happenings: Way back down the hill for Miller, unfortunately. He appeared in two games out of three this past week, and never really got to do anything except dishing one assist against the legitimately terrible Cavaliers. I appreciate that Miller gave me another opportunity to make fun of the Cavaliers.

Inspiration: An overall holiday classic. Best of luck in the new year, Malcolm.

Dewan Hernandez

Trust Meter: 1 out of 10

Happenings: Hurt.

Inspiration: Writer Sean Collins wrote an essay about Road House for every day of 2019. It’s not my favourite movie or anything, but this kind of dedication to craft — even if no one else cares — is something to which Dewan can definitely aspire. You’re a 59th pick given no chance to succeed, so you may as well do your thing, even if it’s just for yourself. Or, to put it another way: pain don’t hurt.

Did the Two-Wayers Play?

First, we’ll just mention: Yes, Shamorie Ponds did appear in a few minutes of action thanks to a game against the Cavaliers (who stink). He even had five points in just two minutes — a 3 and two FTs. But that’s not the two-way story of the week.

After appearing only in garbage time to this point of the season, Oshae Brissett featured prominently in the Raptors’ satisfying win over the Celtics on Dec. 28th. He went on to post 17 minutes against OKC, and another 14 against Cleveland. There are still obvious limitations to Brissett’s game but he definitely went out there and made some noise — which is what Toronto needs him to do. And when you’ve got guys like Kyle Lowry singing your praises, well, that means you’ve done something special.