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End of Bench Chronicles: Let’s park the idea of a known Raptors rotation

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Toronto’s bench corps was all over the place in the past week — big minutes, some big time plays, but also some messes that needed to be cleaned up by the team’s mainstays. Where does that leave us now?

Toronto Raptors v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

It’s impossible to decide on how to feel about this Raptors season. Last Thursday the Raptors fell apart against Miami, and it was because they clearly did not have enough skill — shooting, passing, play-making, whatever word you want to add here — to best their conference rival. It also looked like a team had cracked the code on how to beat the Raptors right now: zone up, dare them to shoot, and swarm Kyle Lowry.

Fortunately, that plan hasn’t entirely worked for every team, and the Raptors still managed to win two games this past week (and should have won a third). In the process, they trotted out some truly wild lineup combinations — including an all-bench group led by Pat McCaw that has to be seen to be believed — and different mixes of players with Lowry, who loves to muck it up. It’ll be touch-and-go for Toronto until they can get their full roster back, but man, it has been some kind of emotional journey. Just when exhaustion sets in, and it seems like the Raptors will never win again, they figure out how to do just that. Again, just impossible to nail down a consistent feeling with these dudes.

So now we get to the week that was. Here’s how the Raptors’ bench players fared during a week when, well, they had to do quite a lot.

Eighth Man Title Holder

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Trust Meter: 9 out of 10

Happenings: Hollis-Jefferson gets the nod this week for being the most consistent Raptor from the end-of-bench squadron. Yes, Patrick McCaw played more minutes, and Terence Davis had a better plus/minus, but Rondae never quite screwed up anything in a surprising way. He did do some wild stuff — driving on Hassan Whiteside, air-balling a late three against Charlotte — but it was of a piece with the whole RHJ experience. He was also tasked with more ball-handling and play-making duties over the past seven days and, well, it was a thing that happened.

Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that for such an intense and, quite frankly, reckless player, it was also heart-warming to see Hollis-Jefferson deal with this unique Toronto situation in such fashion:

Roster Roll Call

Patrick McCaw

Trust Meter: 8 out of 10

Happenings: In a much lesser way than, say, Kyle Lowry, as McCaw goes, so go the Raptors. Just look at the past week: in his good games against Brooklyn and Charlotte, the Raptors won. In the games where he disappeared (Miami) or made some questionable plays (Portland), things fell apart for Toronto. It is still a mystery as to who exactly McCaw is as a player. He’s become a more forceful shooter as of late, and is now trying to make plays at the rim — which is a welcome development — but the outcomes of such efforts are still all over the place. Still, any player that can put in a 13-11 double-double (with assists!) is worth something.

Inspiration: The Clayface two-parter in Batman: The Animated Series. OK OK, just part one, when Matt Hagen gets his new powers and is very excited about all the things he can do. Yes, OK, right, he turns evil and Batman eventually has to defeat him, but you take my meaning here.

Chris Boucher

Trust Meter: 7 out of 10

Happenings: The obvious highlight this week for Boucher comes in the Portland game. During the fourth quarter, with the Blazers constantly pushing to retake the lead (and with their two veteran shot makers, Dame and Melo, starting to get scary), there was Boucher ambling into 10 straight Raptors points and his own personal 7-0 run. It literally came out of nowhere and it gave Toronto the cushion they needed. Of course, it also made Toronto relax perhaps a bit too much (they ended up losing the game). Such is life.

The second highlight for Boucher? Getting into a little verbal sparring match with one of the Zellers, the one on the Hornets, I’m not going to look up what his first name is. Boucher gets extra props for that.

Inspiration: From a few weeks ago, this lovely and descriptive tweet from Derek Harper:

Terence Davis

Trust Meter: 2 out of 10 from Thursday to Tuesday, 10 out of 10 for yesterday

Happenings: Davis was invisible for most of the week and his minutes declined all the way to a mere eight in Tuesday’s loss to the Blazers. Afterwards — and I was in the room for this — Nick Nurse almost casually lit up Davis saying he didn’t even deserve those eight. (“Probably five too many,” was the exact phrase.) But man, did Davis ever bounce back from that. Against Charlotte: a new career-high of 23 pints, with 11 rebounds, five assists, 8-of-16 shooting (including 4-of-8 from three), and a bevy of clutch plays. It all peaked with TD’s insane hit-ahead pass to Serge Ibaka (not the guy to pass to on the move), which showed not just Davis’ ability, but his confidence. Good on ya, Terry!

Inspiration: I like to imagine Terence Davis fitting in with the folksy charms of Bottle Rocket. Yes, it’s an early Wes Anderson movie and thus quite white, but it’s almost as if Davis doesn’t quite realize his situation, and what’s what makes him powerful. They’ll never catch him, man, because he’s fuckin’ innocent.

Matt Thomas

Trust Meter: 4 out of 10

Happenings: The Iceman cometh! After an absence of over a month, Thomas retook the court first for the 905 on Monday, then for the Raptors on Tuesday and Wednesday. That’s three games in three nights. Was his shooting all the way back? Well, not quite — Thomas went 2-of-6 and then 3-of-9 (or 2-of-6 again from three). But for a Raptors team in dire need of spacing (and just a nudge more play-making) it is certainly nice to see Thomas back on the floor.

Inspiration: We’re going with a touch of Hans Zimmer here today, who’s serving up an ode to cathedral building, masterworks, and adventure.

Stanley Johnson

Trust Meter: 2 out of 10

Happenings: Well there were a lot more Stanley Johnson minutes this week, and he even made one (1) three-pointer for his efforts. But man, Johnson is still just, well... he’s trying!

Inspiration: Not Joey Graham.

Malcolm Miller

Trust Meter: 1 out of 10

Happenings: 25 seconds of NBA game action this entire week for Miller. Not the kind of run he’d like to have, I’m sure.

Inspiration: We’re gonna go with my favourite X-Man, Bishop. You remember Bishop? He’s the dude from the future who does everything he can to stop said future from happening. Also, his mutant power is that when you shoot him with energy he’s able to absorb it and redirect it back ten-fold. To that end, it would be cool if Nurse decided to lay into Miller a bit (as he has with Davis, Pascal Siakam, and the like) and for Malcolm used it as fuel to turn his season around.

Dewan Hernandez

Trust Meter: 1 out of 10

Happenings: Injured. Mostly seen post-game in the locker room with his right foot in an ice bucket.

Inspiration: Do we talk about the public park situation here? Sure, let’s. On Tuesday I dunked on the CBC’s Lauren Pelley’s flippant request for access to someone’s backyard. My tweet was flippant too, but it opened up a discussion worth having (which I tried to engage in for a time in various reply threads).

The bottom line is this: the gig economy — services like Uber, AirBnb, WeWork, etc. — are all essentially scams. They are products that erode the very fabric of modern society, even though in some cases they started as just a way for someone to innocently make a little side money with the car/apartment/backyard they’re not using (or not using “efficiently”). These products are convenient, yes, but they are metastasizing into major problems for cities and urban environments of all kinds. Yes, I get that everyone would like a little privacy sometimes, but there is no solution to be found in tech disruption — it only benefits the few, and can (and will) be weaponized against us. Please keep this in mind!

Anyway, much like the career of Dewan Hernandez, I hope he, and we, all dare to dream a little bigger.

Did the Two-Wayers Play?

It feels almost comical now to put Oshae Brissett in this tossed off end section here. He’s been having a net-positive effect on the Raptors over the past week, even if his biggest night (22 minutes against Portland) also had the worst outcome. In that contest, Brissett went 5-of-9 from the field for 12 points, while grabbing six boards, and playing credible defense on some extremely skilled offensive players. (CJ McCollum is still having nightmares.) A fair question to ask: is Brissett the best player currently on a two-way deal in the whole NBA?

So yes, Oshae did play for the Raptors this week. His two-way buddy Shamorie Ponds? Sadly, no — but he was around too, which is nice.