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End of Bench Chronicles: Lost and found and lost again with the Raptors

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It was another rough week for Toronto’s bench unit, though there were a few bright spots of note as the team continues to struggle through another banged up stretch of games on the road.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If we’re being honest, this week may have been one of the roughest in recent memory for the Raptors’ bench players. The team played three games without three of its core pieces and had to reshape its identity on the fly. This gave other players a chance to step up in consistent minutes, but, save for one standout performance, it did not go that way for Toronto. This is what often divides starters from bench players: consistency.

So we’ll get to that one standout performance (spoiler: it was from Chris Boucher), but we also have to reflect on what was essentially a wasted week for Toronto’s reserves. They’re now two games into a west coast road trip, with a 1-1 record on the books. Tonight they play the Warriors, which should make for an emotional night (for some), while providing just the right stage for Steph Curry to make his return to the court. What will change for the Raptors? We wait and see.

Now let’s run through this week’s Chronicles.

Eighth Man Title Holder

Chris Boucher

Trust Meter: 8 out of 10

Happenings: Boucher didn’t play well in two of last week’s games. In fact, he was so out-sized against Denver that the Raptors were forced to rely on Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Pascal Siakam at centre to even make the game competitive (it eventually wasn’t). But after getting called out by coach Nick Nurse, Boucher responded as only he can. He took the floor against a weaker Suns team and casually (but also ferociously) made an impact on the game. In 28 minutes off the bench: 19 points, 15 rebounds, two steals, one block, and a game-sealing three.

Watch Boucher enough and you get the feeling he expects these things from and for himself —or he doesn’t care either way and will just do what he wants, when he wants. The important thing to remember: either way, when it works out for the Raptors, it really, really works.

Roster Roll Call

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Trust Meter: 8 out of 10

Happenings: This is a shaky eight because for all his efforts, Rondae didn’t actually produce much for the Raptors across the week’s three games. He went for 4-and-9 against Charlotte, fouled out, and blew a late post-up against Bismack Biyombo (a dramatically bad idea); he tried his best against Nikola Jokic, but that was hopeless; and then he came off the bench against Phoenix, doing next to nothing. It’s hard not to feel bad for RHJ though — he’s not a centre, and only plays there because, (a) he can’t shoot, and (b) the Raptors have to play someone in the pivot.

Inspiration: Let’s start things off light here and recommend one of my favourite spots to eat in a truly cursed area of Toronto: Yonge and Dundas. Just off Edward Street, north of Dundas, is an upper level restaurant called the Phoenix Cafe which serves Hong Kong-style food. Ridiculous xenophobic concerns about China’s role in the spread of coronavirus aside, it’s cheap and good eating, served quickly and comfortably. This is not a paid endorsement, I swear — and I feel like its small underdog setting fits well with Rondae’s whole thing right now.

Terence Davis

Trust Meter: 5 out of 10

Happenings: After what felt like another turn-the-corner moment for Terence Davis, his Rising Stars snub spurring him to greater heights, we recall now that he is still an unreliable rookie. Three games for Davis this week, three modest (or near-absent) performances, and a noticeable turnaway from Nurse. Toronto’s coach opted to start Patrick McCaw against the Suns, and closed with him too, rather than gamble on the trick-or-treat nature of TD at the moment. That’s fair — and as Davis continues to prove, it doesn’t mean this slump will last for long.

Inspiration: After seeing The Way Back yesterday, I’m ready to imagine Davis as one of the lovable members of a rag-tag high school sports team who helps unite the squad in victory. Many of his best moments have that kind of vibe, the can-you-believe-it thrill of everything working just right. It’s perhaps cliche to suggest an actual athlete should look to fictional athletes for inspiration, but in this case, as with everything else about TD: why not?

Patrick McCaw

Trust Meter: 6 out of 10

Happenings: We’ll give McCaw a little uptick in the Trust Meter this week because he found himself in both the starting and closing lineup for Toronto in Phoenix. In fact, his driving layup with 90 seconds in that game left help put it away. It was a completely inexplicable sequence, but it did indeed happen — and it went a long way towards erasing his 0-for-6 disaster against Charlotte and his hard luck bumblings in Denver. Believe me, I understand the frustration with McCaw (it was there vs. the Suns when he let Ricky Rubio walk to the rim), but he still has some use. Somehow.

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Inspiration: McCaw and Joe Biden couldn’t be further apart as people, but I have to say, I get some of the same feeling from both when they decide to do their thing. For McCaw, that means suddenly stringing together some dribbling moves; for Biden, it’s when he commits to finishing a full sentence. Just electric anxiety all the way down!

Matt Thomas

Trust Meter: 3 out of 10

Happenings: It was quite the tumble this week from Thomas, who went from “Hey, shouldn’t this guy be in the 3-Point Shooting Contesnt?” to just “Whomst?” That’s what happens when you, as a shooter, only hit one of the six shots you take in three games. Not all of that is on Thomas — his teammates have to find him — but it does suggest the limits to his game. (We’ll mention in this aside that Thomas is still rebounding far better than you’d imagine he could, with four boards vs. the Suns.)

Inspiration: Hmm, a beloved figure who is effective in certain ways and less so in others? Let’s stick with American politics again here and give Thomas the Elizabeth Warren playbook this week: give it your all, believe in yourself, never quite come out as a winner, but, also, understand when it’s time to step aside for the good of everyone else.

Stanley Johnson

Trust Meter: 1 out of 10

Happenings: I briefly toyed with the idea of playing Johnson as the team’s centre against Jokic. Not because it would have worked, but because being a burly strongman may be the only move Johnson has left to make. He got one minute of play against the Nuggets, and it was not to try and slow the Nuggets’ All-Star. As it stands, there may not be a role for Johnson at all in Toronto.

Inspiration: Not Joey Graham.

Malcolm Miller

Trust Meter: 1 out of 10

Happenings: Ditto for Miller. It does not appear there are any cards for him left to play in Toronto.

Inspiration: The slow and sad plod of Real Estate’s “Gone” from their new album, The Main Thing, sets the scene here. Like the band, once an upwardly moving indie darling, Miller will have to decide what his next move will be in his career.

Dewan Hernandez

Trust Meter: 1 out of 10

Happenings: Meanwhile, the mystery of Dewan’s ankle injury, perhaps the worst sprain in the history of mankind, continues unabated. Will we ever understand what exactly happened here? Does Dewan still have both feet? How concerned should we be? We carry on!

Inspiration: By jove! Get freakin’ Sherlock Holmes on the case!

Did the Two-Wayers Play?

Despite injuries taking their toll in Toronto, both Oshae Brissett and Paul Watson spent the week with Raptors 905 battling it out for a G League playoff spot. Given that there haven’t been many minutes for a couple other combo wing/forwards in Toronto, it shouldn’t surprise that the organization is now banking their two-way players’ NBA appearances for later use.

Also, unless the Raptors do something dramatic and, say, cut Miller, it seems likely we’ll only see the pair from time to time for the rest of the regular season before a full-on benching comes for the playoffs. Such is the life of a G Leaguer at this juncture.