It’s not easy finding undrafted NBA players who emerge and actually make an impact in the league. But the Raptors may have done it twice in four years. The latest case: Terence Davis turned down two-way contracts during the 2019 NBA Draft, betting on himself to receive a guaranteed deal, which the Raptors offered him after one Summer League game.
Fred VanVleet was the previous undrafted player the Raptors brought in. The point guard signed as an undrafted free agent in 2016, emerged in the rotation during his second year in the NBA, became even more impactful in year three — filling in as a starter at times — and by his fourth season, Fred was a consistent starter, with All-Star-like numbers, on his way to a major payday this upcoming free agency period.
Now, it would be unfair to place VanVleet’s roadmap in front of Davis and demand he take the same path to success. But the latter has bet on himself in a similar way, and he’s now turning heads around the league in much the same way.
After his senior year at Ole Miss, Davis took his talents to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in April 2019, and only after his performance their did he get an invite to the G League Elite Camp, followed by an invitation to the NBA pre-draft camp.
His agent, Adam Pensack, told Marc Spears of The Undefeated that Davis received pre-draft workouts with Atlanta, Minnesota, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Utah, Sacramento, Chicago, Brooklyn, Dallas, and two with Golden State.
By the end of the Draft in June, Davis’ name was never called, and he had to stand in front of the guests at his draft party and tell them he was going undrafted. The speech was similar to the one VanVleet gave to his guests three years prior, which Davis just so happened to retweet after his unsuccessful night.
It wasn’t that teams didn’t want Davis, but that he was uninterested in the role they were offering him. During that draft, Davis rejected multiple two-way contract offers, and ultimately decided he was good enough to earn that guaranteed deal and be a big league player right from the jump.
“It’s very humbling for a guy like that to take some credence from what I did,” VanVleet said a couple weeks after the Raptors signed Davis to a guaranteed contract ahead of the 2019-20 campaign. The Raptors offer came the same night Davis had a 22-point performance for the Nugget’s Summer League team. Davis continued to make a statement through two more games with the Raptors, finishing his Summer League run with averages of 18.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.3 steals, and a block a game.
From there, Davis worked his way into the Raptors rotation after impressing in training camp. He didn’t get to play much at all as the season started, but after injuries struck Toronto, coach Nick Nurse looked down the bench and called Davis’ number. From there, both player and team never quite looked back during the regular season.
To begin with, Davis’ ballhandling was always there, which allows him to be an option at point. But with Kyle Lowry and VanVleet on the Raptors, his time at that position would always be limited. Instead, Davis earned himself a role in the rotation as a wing off the bench — playing in all 72 regular season games for Toronto. What’s more, he played 10 or more minutes in 60 of those contests.
Now, Davis’ season had its ups and downs — as tends to happen with rookies — which could be defined by a two-day span in early January.
The Raptors had just lost to the Portland Trail Blazers 101-99 on January 7. It was a game without VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, and Norman Powell. Davis played just eight minutes and shot 0-for-2. After the game, Nurse confirmed that Davis wasn’t playing well, and that the eight minutes was “probably five minutes too many.” It was also the rookie’s first game under the 10-minute mark since early November.
However, the next night — with the Raptors missing the same four players — Davis got the start and responded throughout the game in a career-high 37 minutes. Along the way he added his first career double-double of 23 points and 11 rebounds and helped the Raptors grab the overtime win over the Charlotte Hornets. Nurse wanted to rattle Davis’ cage and by doing so, he got a veteran response from the rookie.
Elsewhere during the season, there was also a stretch of four games ahead of the All-Star break when Davis averaged 19.8 points per game in 27.7 minutes, while shooting 60 percent from both from the field and from three. He also set his career-high in scoring during that run after hanging 31 points on a hapless Bulls team.
This scoring explosion was not enough for Davis to be named to the Rising Stars Game, which was a shocker to Raptors fans — and rightfully so, he belonged there. Nevertheless, Davis proceeded to come out of the break with even more motivation, scoring in double digits in three consecutive games.
From Summer League to the regular season, ahead of its shutdown, Davis showed he can score. He had the ability to get to the rim himself, and he was solid without the ball as well.
Davis had 78 paint touches, ranking seventh on the Raptors, and he shot 72.2 percent when he had the ball there. He also had a total of 214 drives to the rim, which put him sixth on the Raptors, and while he averaged less than one field goal per game attacking the rim, Davis still shot 46.2 percent doing so. That said, he only shot 12 free throws out of his drives to the hoop, so an area to work on for the future will be to learn how to draw contact versus defenders. Of course, Davis was also fourth amongst rookies in three-point percentage (minimum 100 attempts), so he presented a complete scoring game anyway.
For him to be a true impact player and someone Nurse can go-to consistently, Davis will need to become a better overall defender, both in man-to-man schemes and as a help defender. His quickness and length should help him get there though.
In all, Davis’ journey proves that if you want it enough, betting on yourself is not a bad idea. The rookie capped his year off by being named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. Not bad for an undrafted player. Meanwhile, Davis’ career has just started, but we should expect to see him take on a larger role with the Raptors next season.
The potential departure of VanVleet during free agency could open the need for a back up point guard, where Davis played limited minutes this year. He probably won’t be a full-time backup at that spot, but if the Raptors can’t find someone to fill the position consistently, Davis is an option.
There could also be a need for the Raptors to clear cap space this summer to re-sign VanVleet and/or Serge Ibaka (or Marc Gasol?), and with that could come the trade of Powell. If that does become the case, then Davis’ role will almost certainly expand for next season.
Overall, the rookie bet on himself and the Raptors did too. Through one season it has worked for both sides. Davis still has room to grow and improve, but he has put the league on notice with a rookie campaign that showcased his scoring talents. It’s now about taking the next steps with a larger role and more opportunity.