Though Monday’s 114-106 Toronto Raptors victory over the Milwaukee Bucks was about as meaningful as an NBA game normally played in the summer, the strong performances from reserves Chris Boucher and Matt Thomas and, to a lesser extent, Terence Davis II and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, may yet have given some legitimate value to the remainder of Toronto’s seeding games.
As head coach Nick Nurse has maintained all along, heading into the playoffs the Raptors have a core group of seven players (Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Norman Powell) that will get the lion’s share of minutes. Beyond that, Nurse may stretch his rotation out to add one or two more players up to a total of eight or nine guys seeing the floor per game.
And it’s in these eighth or ninth spots of the Raptors’ rotation that the performances seen from the likes of Boucher, Thomas, Davis and Hollis-Jefferson weigh large.
In all likelihood, a combination of this quartet will be used to fill in the back-end of the Raptors’ rotation during the playoffs, and each player brings with them different strengths and weaknesses. Here’s a closer look at each of them.
Boucher’s combination of length and skill make him an intriguing player for Nurse to turn to in bursts because, as evidenced by Monday’s 25-point, 12-rebound explosion, when the 27-year-old Canadian is able to string together a couple good plays and start feeling good about himself, his raw talent certainly looks like the real deal.
The Raptors don’t have many options in the way of big men outside of their one-two punch of Gasol and Ibaka, so Boucher could be a nice option for Nurse as another big to rely on if those two land themselves in foul trouble.
Additionally, Boucher can provide a kind of weak-side rim protection that no other player on the Raptors can, and his versatile skill set to be able to put the ball on the floor and hit the occasional three-pointer at his size also means Toronto’s spacing on offence won’t have to be sacrificed because he’s on the floor.
The downside to utilizing Boucher is that lot of his skills are already covered by the likes of Gasol and Ibaka, and though he’s worked hard to add muscle over the course of the hiatus, he’s still more likely to be boxed out when contesting for boards.
Overall, however, Boucher fits the Swiss Army Knife mold the Raptors like to have on the floor and has real skill to back it all up, making him an attractive option even if only to test what he might be able to provide on any given night.
Terence Davis II
Davis has had a rough time in the bubble so far, but on Monday he appeared to show signs of righting himself with a 10-point showing on 5-of-8 shooting.
He did, however, foul out of the game, and therein lies one of the issues with Davis.
Like many rookies, Davis can be a little overzealous at times on defence and get himself into trouble. Also concerning is the fact that Davis is only shooting 33.3 per cent from three-point range in the bubble after connecting at a very good 39.6 per cent rate before the restart.
Nurse has often talked about wanting to ride the hot hand and, unfortunately for Davis, he just isn’t shooting the ball well enough right now to be reliably trusted with those semi-regular playoff minutes at the back of the rotation.
With that said, it’s not like Davis can’t turn his game around in a hurry, either. As a rookie, the 23-year-old has shown an impressive ability to bounce back from poor performances and we shouldn’t doubt him now just because the playoffs are around the corner.
Davis has legitimate three-and-D potential, something that’s highly valued in today’s game, so he’s likely a player who should be expected to at least be given a shot to prove himself early in the playoffs.
Though it may seem odd, Hollis-Jefferson is probably the guy most likely to grab one of the remaining rotation spots out of the names on this list.
On the season, only the Raptors’ core seven and Patrick McCaw play more minutes per game than Hollis-Jefferson, and the rationale should be obvious to anyone who’s ever heard a Nurse press conference before.
Though Hollis-Jefferson doesn’t look all that smooth or pretty on the offensive end, he brings it on defence and is all-effort-all-the-time while he’s on the floor, attributes that Nurse values very highly, especially in reserve players.
Ultimately, all Nurse is looking for from his third and fourth selections off the bench is someone who will compete and at least help uphold a lead or not let a deficit spiral out of control.
So while Hollis-Jefferson does mess up Toronto’s floor spacing due to three-point shooting not really being part of his game, the energy he provides by crashing the offensive glass and hard-nosed defence he plays is exactly what Nurse is looking for when a player like Pascal Siakam or OG Anunoby goes to the bench.
On Monday, Thomas caught fire and showed why the Raptors signed him in the off-season from Valencia to begin with, finishing with a career-best 22 points on 9-of-17 shooting, including a 4-for-8 mark from deep.
It’s no secret what Thomas brings to the table: He’s a remarkable shooter making 47.3 per cent of his three-point looks this season while boasting a true-shooting percentage of 65.1.
And in case you don’t know what that means, if Thomas had played enough qualified minutes he’d rank seventh in the whole league in true-shooting percentage.
In other words, he can shoot the hell out of the ball and it’s really just other aspects of his game that will hold him back from seeing consistent floor time – at least that’s what we thought.
Monday’s contest proved to be eye-opening in regards to Thomas, showing not only that if given the opportunity he can go volcanic, but also that there’s a lot more to his game than just his ability to fire from distance.
Thomas proved that when he gets run off the three-point line he has a really nice looking midrange game, the ability to put the ball on the floor and is a willing passer. This, in addition to strong defence played against an all-star in Khris Middleton, has to have Nurse thinking about possibly seeing Thomas some more.
His shooting ability is such a magnet for opposing defences that it suddenly opens up a lot more space for other players. With Lowry, VanVleet and Ibaka all resting we didn’t get to see what a combination of an in-rhythm Thomas with any of those three on the floor might look like, but one can imagine the results could potentially be devastating offensively.
We obviously don’t know if Thomas will see more opportunity in the playoffs, but from the outside looking in, he certainly seems like a player who should be afforded more chances to prove himself as the upside involved for the Raptors seems too high to ignore.