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Raptors Wish List: Terence Davis on the defensive end

We’re looking at each Raptors player and reviewing one skill to improve for 2020-21. Today, the explosive (but foul-prone) Terence Davis.

Toronto Raptors v Orlando Magic Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors unearthed a lot of success stories on their bench in 2019-20, and Terence Davis might be the shiniest of them all.

Coming out of Ole Miss as an undrafted player, Davis turned down short-term deals in favour of a guaranteed offer — which the Raptors obliged amidst a standout 2019 Summer League. It paid off handsomely during the regular season, as Davis quickly saw his responsibilities increase among an oft-injured Raptors backcourt. He ended up playing at least ten minutes in 60 games for Toronto (including pre-bubble and bubble regular season), averaging 7.5 points in 16.8 minutes overall, shooting 45.6% and 38.8% from deep.

There was no questioning Davis’ impact on the offensive end, and with even more room to grow on that end, it’s assured that the Raptors have a bench gunner role for him for the duration of his contract.

Still, it wasn’t all rosy for Davis in his first year, especially as the games started to carry more weight. In the Eastern Conference semis against the Celtics, Davis rarely saw the court, playing in just three of the seven games. When he did, he was targeted by Boston’s offensive schemes, and Davis was prone to foul trouble — the most egregious coming when he committed three in just five minutes in a Game 2 loss.

We can chalk this up to Nick Nurse trusting Norman Powell more in bigger games, as Powell swallowed up a lot of Davis’ minutes in a tight seven man rotation against Boston. There was also a self-fulfilling prophecy at play here too: we knew that Davis had a tendency to foul and he didn’t disprove that when he was on the court.

So, for our inaugural offseason Wish List, let’s look at the best way Terence Davis can round out his game in his sophomore NBA season: cleaning up on the defensive end.

(Over?) Active Hands

The defensive philosophy of Terence Davis is like going into a job interview and saying your biggest flaw is that you “care too much.” Generally, Davis is an active and intense player on defence — which echoes his play on the other end of the floor. He knows his spot on the floor, is comfortable in the Raptors’ schemes (as a rookie!), and rarely makes catastrophic breakdowns like allowing backcuts, open shots, etc.

Still, his on ball defence is where he gets in a bit of trouble. Davis typically plays tight to whoever he’s guarding, which can result in some good things — like this pin of Terrence Ross to the sideline to force a turnover.

He’s also not afraid to reach in and grab a ball when it’s available, like this aggressive steal from Moe Harkless against the Clippers.

Of course, this style of play also results in a lot of fouls. Davis averaged 3.7 fouls per 36 minutes in the regular season, the highest of Raptors’ backcourt rotation players. In the playoffs, that jumped to 4.7, with a lot of that due to a smart Boston team ensuring they attack off the bounce to develop good shots.

Settling In

While it might seem like a cop out solution for his defensive flaws, the best thing Terence Davis can do to combat these fouls is... just to gain experience. Having gone through a series where his head coach made a definitive statement on his playability, Davis understands both his role on the team in the regular season and where he has to improve to get in when the games mean more.

As mentioned, Davis has the fundamentals to be a sharp defensive player for the Raptors — maybe more so than anyone behind him on the Raptors bench, including Patrick McCaw. What he has to adjust is staying flat on drives, not reaching for steals, and trusting help defence and the team to make plays when they’re not available to him.

You really had to nitpick to find these issues with Davis before the Boston series started. Now, there are things we’ll be watching for when games resume in 2021. If fouls are all we have to worry about with Terence Davis in his second year, then the Raptors still have to feel good about the gem they unearthed during Summer League.