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NBA Toronto Raptors Chris Boucher and Terence Davis

The Raptors Stealth Reload

All the talk about the Toronto Raptors heading into this season was about when President Masai Ujiri would throw in the towel and move out Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and/or Serge Ibaka for future assets to begin the inevitable rebuild in the post Kawhi Leonard era. Paraphasing Ujiri’s response, hold my beer….

Never once suggesting his defending NBA Champion team would slink quietly back into the north and become irrelevant, Ujiri completed a stealth reload by picking up players no one else wanted, betting on the continued development of the guys he knew and doubling down on his remaining All-Star by extending the expiring contract of Lowry.

Those who actual know the returning Raptors rotation players had no doubt Toronto would be a good team this season. They had returning veterans and “Spicy P” Siakam and “Steady Freddy” VanVleet proved they could play at a high level during last year’s run to a championship, so its no real surprise to see what they’re doing now, but depth was a big mystery, even to head coach Nick Nurse, and the Raptors depth was going to be tested early.

Eight games in at the start of a five game western conference road swing and both Lowry and Ibaka are lost to injury and seven games later they were still out, but the short-handed Raptors have battled to an 11-4 record and are in a three-way tie for second in the East despite playing 9 road games.

Somehow Ujiri had built a roster with more talent than anyone could have imagined coming out of training camp.

Undrafted rookie Terence Davis is one of just five Raptors to play in every game this season and he’s been more than just a pleasant surprise. Coming off the bench for an average 14.3 minutes a game, Davis sports the highest net rating on the roster at +14.6. A big physical guard who plays defense and is averaging 1.1 made threes hitting 47.2 percent of his attempts, Ujiri has found yet another over-looked talent.

Chris Boucher went undrafted in 2017 and spent most of last season in a very succesful stint with the Raptors 905 G League team. At 6’9 and 200 lbs, he looked too thin to battle at any forward spot in the NBA last year, but he’s been more than impressive in his 13 appearances this year. Averaging 12.5 minutes, Boucher leads the Raptors in second chance points at 2.2 per game. On a roster that has been challenged to grab rebounds, he’s been their best board man in the rotation grabbing 19.1 percent of the available boards.

In his fourth season with the Nets, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson lost the confidence of his team and in what could be seen as a cap clearing move, they declined to issue him a qualifying offer. So Ujiri picked him up on a one-year deal for $2.5 million. It’s been a great decision. When Ibaka went down, Hollis-Jefferson stepped in and has arguably played with more energy than the guy whose minutes he took.  In eight games, Hollis-Jefferson is a +4.5 points per game while Ibaka was -1.1 points in his eight games.  The two players are tied at 2.0 second chance points per game. Noteworthy, Hollis-Jefferson is tied with Siakam for the team’s second best net rating at 11.7. It’s going to be hard to sit him when the Raptors injured players get back.

Nurse has managed to “sneak” undrafted three-point shooter Matt Thomas into 12 games this year for an average of 11.3 minutes. Easily over-looked by anyone not reading a scouting report, Thomas is more than living up to expectations as he’s shooting 53.8 percent from three and averaging 1.2 makes. The 25-year-old even plays hard on defense.

When the season started it looked like coach Nurse only had seven players he could rely on, but after 15 games that concern is gone. Not just unexpected depth, the Raptors have young depth with potential. Once again Ujiri has found overlooked talent that can contribute to  winning team. So far it’s been a stealth reload no one saw coming.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at Scotiabank Arena and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association. 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Chris Boucher

Raptors Have Nothing To Offer Buyout Candidates

In what appears to be an historically deep buyout market the Toronto Raptors have nothing to offer players looking to showcase their skills in the hopes of getting that new deal in July. Toronto is solid thru their top seven, Norman Powell, signed to a long term $42 million deal, has gotten his game back on track, they are not going to bench sophomore OG Anunoby as his development is important to the future of the franchise, and even Patrick McCaw seems to have earned a little of head coach Nick Nurse’s confidence on defense. It’s no wonder buyout players aren’t rushing to sign up in Toronto.

Then there’s president Masai Ujiri’s deep commitment to the luxury tax that filling the four mandatory roster spots with cheap help would improve and it’s hard not to believe that isn’t a major consideration. A fact proven by Ujiri adding two Raptors 905 G-League players to his roster.

Now the Raptors like Miller and keep giving him looks and Boucher has been a pleasant surprise, but neither of these players move the needle in Toronto even slightly, they will help Ujiri with his tax bill though. Besides, Boucher is fun to watch as he has the potential to do everything from blocks and steals to rebounds and threes if he can figure out the NBA game. Miller was hurt most of this year so even his G-League stats aren’t very enlightening.

These signings will allow Ujiri to sign players to 10-day contracts and save even more off the tax, so the previously reported Ben McLemore deal can go forward and Ujiri shouldn’t have any problem getting a second 10-day guy on the books before his two week grace period to get back to 14 warm bodies expires.

McLemore, however, is worth a hard look as he brings the one skill everyone knows the Raptors need to upgrade. Over the last five seasons, he’s been shooting the three-ball at 36 percent and in very limited minutes this year he was hitting on 41.5 percent. McCaw is 0-5 from three with Toronto, so maybe McLemore has a chance to steal his minutes?

There are lots of players with NBA experience available in the buyout market who could be important depth pieces on the Raptors if they don’t mind filling the third string role on an already deep team. It’d be nice to see at least one of them in Toronto for the stretch drive and what should be a long playoff run.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.