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Player Preview: Will we enjoy watching Patrick McCaw this season?

It’s time once again to review what makes Patrick McCaw so frustrating to watch, and also discuss how he can improve moving forward for Toronto.

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NBA: Toronto Raptors at Utah Jazz Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

It may surprise you to learn that Patrick McCaw only played 37 games last season for the Raptors. He surely made his mark, albeit in an unfortunate fashion. Over the course of the year, McCaw became many fans’ least favourite player on the Raptors. It’s important to mention, however, that this widespread condemnation isn’t for a complete lack of skill, nor an attitude problem. There are less talented players on the roster (apologies to Stanley Johnson) who aren’t the recipients of fans’ overwhelming grievances.

Yes, McCaw displays incredibly frustrating tendencies on the court. That fact cannot be denied. Yet, I posit that most of the blame for the anti-McCaw propaganda should fall on coach Nick Nurse’s shoulders. On paper, McCaw possesses the qualities of someone who can really help a team — his combination of length, height, and athleticism should be enough to qualify as a major disruptor on defense. Based on those physical qualities alone, I understand why Nurse would give him minutes. However, McCaw’s deficiencies stem almost entirely from his on-court mindset and style of play, rather than any physical shortcomings. Passivity isn’t a skill; it’s a character trait. McCaw’s lack of confidence is the root of nearly all of his shortcomings, and I’m not sure this issue can be rectified.

McCaw consistently hesitates upon receiving the ball, leading to a plethora of preventable turnovers. He refuses to shoot open shots, often resulting in a stalled offense for Toronto and a wasted possession. It’s an interesting dilemma — on one hand, passing up open looks spells death for any competent offense. On the other hand, if McCaw ends up taking too many shots, something has undoubtedly gone wrong (he shot 41 percent from the field, 32 percent from three in 2019-20).

On the defensive end, McCaw appears springy and agile, which makes it all the more frustrating when he lets his primary matchup blow right by him. Far too often, he appears lost, confused, and scared on the court.

However, I’d like to once again reiterate that fans’ disdain towards McCaw last season was fuelled mostly by Nurse’s decision to play him over energetic, former fan favourites such as Terence Davis and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. It’s not McCaw’s fault that he was granted 24.5 minutes per game. Yes, injuries played a role, but Nurse’s steadfast belief in McCaw, coupled with his refusal to acknowledge his horrendous advanced stats, quickly turned fans against him.

One all-encompassing statistic, Player Impact Plus-Minus (PIPM), estimates how much value any given player adds to his team. Last year, McCaw’s PIPM value of -2.71 ranked him as the 40th worst player in the NBA, placing him comfortably between Troy Daniels, who is no longer in the league, and Evan Turner, who is now a coach. It wasn’t just this one metric that put McCaw’s shortcomings on display, either. According to an article from The Athletic’s Blake Murphy, McCaw’s “9.7-percent usage rate… [threatened] Lucas Nogueira’s 2016-17 for the most shot-avoidant for a rotation player in franchise history.” For Nurse to ignore these statistical shortcomings became understandably baffling over the course of the year.

For McCaw to become a reliable role player on the team, he must address a myriad of issues. First, to have any real positive defensive impact, he must hit the weight room. Currently, McCaw is too weak to handle contact — at 180 pounds, he is often out-muscled on the floor, getting knocked out of position by stronger opponents. Putting on some muscle is essential to help him stay in front of his matchup.

Next, he must work on his ball-handling abilities to gain some confidence on the offensive end. He isn’t the world’s worst dribbler by any stretch, but you can tell that he doesn’t feel comfortable putting the ball on the floor. He is afraid to make mistakes, which, in turn, ends up spurring a self-fulfilling prophecy.

McCaw’s last major area of weakness is his lack of decisiveness. I don’t believe we can expect to see any improvement in this area, especially after coming off many months of recovery time from a benign mass in his left knee. It’s not McCaw’s fault, but players are often especially tentative after injury, which doesn’t bode well for a player that already displayed a total lack of aggression and energy throughout his career.

So, to answer the question — will we enjoy watching Patrick McCaw this season? — my answer is no, likely not, unless Nurse uses him more sparingly than he did last season. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say the clear majority of Raptors fans would rather watch rookie Malachi Flynn and newcomer DeAndre’ Bembry get some reps over McCaw.

To be fair, McCaw had a couple good games where he made great reads, passed the ball effectively, and even scored in the double digits. However, those achievements shouldn’t be a lot to ask for from a regular in the rotation on a winning team. If McCaw can learn to be effective in small doses, the Raptors could certainly benefit from his being out there — though I wouldn’t count on it.