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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 rookie Terence Davis

Raptors Bet On Undrafted Rookie With Huge Hands

If you’ve been looking for a big name or proven veteran to bolster the Raptors rotation for the upcoming season, President Masai Ujiri hasn’t been listening. After signing a pair of young forwards that weren’t given a new contract by their old clubs, Ujiri has dipped back into the undrafted pool of talent to scoop up a combo guard from Ole Miss, Terence Davis.

If Ujiri hadn’t proven himself to be a pretty good judge of overlooked talent (see Fred VanVleet), one could be convinced the Raptors were giving up on defending their NBA title. (still T.B.D.)

Never really an NBA draft prospect, Davis had a strong senior year and turned down two-way NBA contracts to sign with Denver for summer league and betting on himself appears to have paid off. After all, he was gaining attention for all the right reasons as described in his Ole Miss profile.

Davis had his best season to finish his Ole Miss career.

Davis’ final shooting numbers included 44.4 percent (179 of 403) from the field, 37.1 percent (65 of 175) from beyond the arc and 77.2 percent (78 of 101) from the free throw line. He also produced four of the team’s five double-doubles throughout the season, including a night of 25 points and 12 rebounds versus No. 6 Kentucky (March 5) during his last game in The Pavilion.

Behind Davis’ senior leadership on and off the floor, Ole Miss returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years. The Rebels were predicted to finish last in the SEC, but Davis and company exceeded expectations en route to a 20-13 record

From not even on the NBA radar as a college rookie, Davis’ game improved at both ends of the court and while he still has a long ways to go, the promise of becoming a “microwave” scorer and solid defender is there as described in a detailed SB Nation Grizzly Bear Blues article.

Defensively, I love his versatility at that end. At 6’4” with his 6’8” wingspan, he has the size to guard positions 1-3. In addition, he possesses the lateral quickness to not get torched at the next level.

Unlike most stereotypical 3-and-D players, Davis has a solid first step and can create his own shot. With this skill, he can get hot from the field super quick and get on a nice scoring run.

he has the athleticism and explosiveness to thrive in transition. He’s also a strong rebounder for a smaller player, and he could capitalize on that skill to ignite the fast-break.

That is a description for how Raptors head coach Nick Nurse wants to play and if Davis can handle the transition to the NBA smoothly, he’ll find minutes off the bench.

Another reason Ujiri was probably attracted to Davis (aside from the fact he’ll be a cheap addition to a team that doesn’t have a lot of flexibility), is an apparent level of toughness that Ujiri has coveted since the day he started rebuilding the Raptors into an organization other teams have been forced to respect. Davis probably should have played football instead of basketball coming out of high school according to Matthew del Rio of SB Nation Liberty Ballers.

An NBA future wasn’t always in the cards for Terence Davis. Five years ago, he was a highly touted high school wide receiver and received scholarship offers from twenty power conference schools. “I was a 6-4 wide receiver with long arms and huge hands who could catch everything that came my way.” Davis (said.)

despite improving by leaps and bounds during his time at Ole Miss, an NBA career was unlikely. Following his junior season, Davis entered his name in the NBA Draft but chose to return to school after it became clear he was a long shot

But his improved play last year and his physical measurements suggested someone should be giving him a harder look.

Davis received an invitation to the 2019 NBA Draft Combine. Although Davis impressed in both combine scrimmages — he shot 12-for-21 from the field — his measurements were what stood out. The 6-foot-4.5 shooting guard’s wingspan measurement is listed as 6-foot-8.75. Of the four combine participants whose hand width measurements are listed as 10.75 inches, Davis is the only one shorter than 6-foot-8.75.

Raptors fans won’t have forgotten the advantage of having monster hands on defense can have after last season. For comparison, Kawhi Leonard’s hands are 11.25 inches in width. Rajon Rondo, whose hands are huge for a guard, are actually smaller at 10 inches.

Ujiri has decided to give another late bloomer in college who has shown leadership potential and a two-way game a chance to develop in a system that has proven to be very effective at producing NBA players. This kid has the tools, the Raptors hope he has the talent to go with them.

In fairness, look for Davis to start out playing significant time with the Raptors 905 in the G-League, but like previous players Ujiri has sent down, if he impresses, he’ll get his shot with the big club quickly enough.

 

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.