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Times are tough for Terence Davis, but is his slump only temporary?

Despite his recent struggles, shooting guard Terence Davis should remain an important bench contributor for the banged-up Raptors.

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

The new year has been tough for Raptors’ rookie shooting guard Terence Davis. The first-year pro has struggled considerably in his last three games, leading to his worst shooting slump since the opening month of the season. He is currently converting a pitiful 36.4 percent from the field to go along with only 14.3 percent from deep. Not surprisingly, these poor shooting splits have resulted in a sharp decline in minutes to only 14.5 per game. After Tuesday’s loss to Portland, coach Nick Nurse was asked why Davis didn’t get more than eight minutes of run. Nurse was succinct: “It was probably five to many.”

However, this is not the first time that Davis has faced such adversity. Coming out of high school, he was a highly sought-after football recruit. Over 20 Division I football programs offered him scholarships, compared to only five basketball schools. According to most scouts and coaches, his path to the NFL was a much easier and more probable one. Davis, however, had other ideas. His true passion was basketball, and he chose his local college of Ole Miss, where he starred with the Rebels for four years.

Following college, Davis’ ranked as a solid second round NBA draft prospect. Yet again, he opted for the road less travelled. He encouraged teams not to draft him in the second round since he was not going to sign a two-way contract. He had one goal in mind: to play in the NBA right away, foregoing the G League. So all of his NBA hopes depended upon his Summer League performance. Where better to gamble than a week in Vegas? Davis’ wager paid out. After a 22 point outing with the Nuggets’ Summer League team, Masai Ujiri quickly called him to offer a two-year contract with the defending NBA champions.

Early in the season, Davis showed the potential to be a solid rotation player for the Raps. As the season moved into December, Davis cemented his role as a key contributor off the bench. And after the disastrous night in Detroit on December 20th when the Raps lost three key players: Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Norman Powell, he turned into a reliable first or second option off the bench. In the ensuing seven games closing out the calendar year, his minutes increased to 22.1 and his points per game surged to 9.7, with Davis hitting an effective 45.2 percent from beyond the arc. He also took better care of the ball during that stretch, reducing his turnovers to less than one per game and finishing defensive possessions by grabbing a striking 4.7 rebounds. He was even employed by head coach Nick Nurse to close out tight games twice versus the Mavs and Thunder. His role as a rotation mainstay was clear to everyone.

With Davis hitting his stride in December, it appeared that the sky would be the limit for him in 2020. However, it’s been quite the opposite. Throughout January, he’s only contributed six points per game while turning the ball over an alarming 2.5 times every four quarters. His shooting percentages are also way down, as noted, at below 40 percent from the field and under 15 percent from deep. Finally, Davis’ rebounding has shrunk to 1.5 per game, a number unbecoming a guard of such strength and size.

It’s no coincidence then that this recent slump comes at the 35-game mark. The gruelling NBA schedule is notoriously longer that the NCAA’s 30-40 game calendar. It’s not unusual for rookies to run out of steam at this time of the year.

But perspective is everything, and Davis’ skill-set gives every reason to believe he will get through this slump and resume his positive play. Overall for the season, he is shooting 46.9 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from beyond the arc. These are strong splits for a rookie shooting guard. Moreover, with his athletic frame and long 6’8” wingspan, Davis rebounds the heck out of the ball, averaging 3.0 per game. And while defense usually takes some time for rookies to learn, Davis has generally managed to stay with the Raptors’ schemes too.

Davis’ last three games are obviously outliers. His shooting slump and carelessness with the ball is a combination that drives coaches crazy, and Nurse is no exception. To get out of this slump, Davis will have to get back to fundamentals. His defense needs to be consistent — at his size and athleticism, he must be an above average defender game in and game out. Robust defending and timely rebounding will keep him on the floor, allowing him to play through his shooting funk and find his stroke again. To that end, despite some pick-and-roll chemistry with Chris Boucher, it’s probably best if Davis plays as an off-ball shooting guard for the most part — yes, even with Toronto’s point guard corps depleted as they are.

No one should overreact to Davis’ last three games. He is simply too good to shoot this poorly for a prolonged period. He will almost certainly continue to provide Nurse with a solid option off the bench, even when the Raptors are healthy again. He’s yet one more of Masai’s undrafted discoveries that have been a key to the Raptors success over the past several years. Eventually, Davis will earn back those five minutes, and then some.