TORONTO – Toronto Raptors rookie Terence Davis II isn’t a rookie anymore.
And as contradictory as that sounds, know that there’s some truth to that statement.
The only Raptors player to get into all 64 games before the COVID-19-mandated suspension of the season, Davis has enjoyed a trial-by-fire rookie campaign that’s seen him go through his fair share of growing pains, but in the end saw him emerge as a trusted and valued member of the team who’s no longer allowed to get away with lapses in judgment like other rookies might.
“These guys, if I make a mistake, I’m not a rookie anymore,” said Davis in a conference call Thursday. “I think I heard someone say that.”
Though it won’t officially be marked down, when the Raptors tip off their season resumption against the Los Angeles Lakers on Aug. 1, it will sort of feel like Davis’ second season in the league.
At the very least, Davis is talking about the season reset like it’s a brand-new season.
“I would come into this more mature, being that I went through three-fourths of a season, just growing up, man, maturing, taking the steps in the right direction,” said Davis “These guys, Fred [VanVleet], Kyle [Lowry], Marc [Gasol], Norm [Powell], all these guys, man, they make sure the young guys are where they need to be, because to them, it’s everything. These guys are defending their title. You wanna be a part of that.”
The opportunity in front of Davis is one he’s wanted for a while. Way back in late April, during the early stages of this pandemic world we live in now, Davis spoke to reporters expressing a desire to suit up in the playoffs and help contribute to big-time post-season Raptors victories.
“I was so excited for playoffs because I’ve been working so hard for the playoffs, and now the question is up in the air,” Davis said at the time.
The question is no longer in the air for Davis and, according to the Raptors coaching staff, he’s more than ready for the moment.
“TD has been so impressive as a rookie,” said Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin. “He’s won several games for us, had some big games as a starter, he’s one of those rookies that you can’t wait to see in the next year or two because you know that they’re going to have significant growth moving forward. He’s been a pleasure to coach.”
This rate of growth Griffin is talking about isn’t something the Raptors won’t just be banking for next season, they’ll be hoping Davis can continue to evolve game-to-game during the eight-game seeding period and during the post-season.
Most notably, with the Raptors presumably back to full strength when they return to play, there’s a good chance Davis’ role will decrease, but if he’s able to improve as a secondary ball-handler/play-maker during this time before the season’s resumption, Davis believes he’ll be able to carve out more consistent minutes for himself.
“I would say mastering the pick and roll more, man,” Davis said of areas of improvement he’s identified for himself. “I think I’ll be a secondary ball-handler going into the bubble – and shooting off the dribble, man, that’s something that I can improve on.
“As we all know, I can shoot the ball off of catch-and-shoot with Kyle, Fred creating for me and finding me when I’m open, but I think the next step is creating my own shot and just being a secondary ball-handler, a secondary play-maker, things of that sort.”
Mastering the art of the pick and roll isn’t something happens just overnight, and likely isn’t something that Davis will even be able to make as much progress as he would like during the season’s resumption, but it’s still encouraging to hear he’s actively looking to improve, even when games resume.
In the meantime, however, while his role might reduce a little, it certainly sounds like the Raptors will be looking to find ways to utilize him regularly.
“If you went back and watched some of our games, Coach [Nick] Nurse has unbelievable trust in him and so does the entire coaching staff,” said Griffin. “He’s just a complete, all-around player and he’s still improving. And I think that’s the scary part about it, I think he’s already positioning himself as one of the elite scorers and shooters in this league as a 2-guard and he has a phenomenal attitude.”
“He’s fun to work with, has a great work ethic with all our coaching staff. Coach Nurse I think is allowing him room to grow and I think that’s important for young players, you’ve got to allow them to play through some mistakes. You can’t play tight, you can’t play in fear, and I think that’s one thing that Coach Nurse does with all our players is giving them the confidence to go out on the floor not worrying about looking over their shoulder or looking over at the bench. And if you’re faithful to that, Coach Nurse, he’ll roll with you.”
A 39.6 per cent marksman from deep on 3.5 attempts per game, Davis has certainly proved himself a valuable asset to the team. As such, as Griffin said, don’t be surprised to see him get some burn during important moments in the playoffs.
“Obviously, the regular season is much different from the playoffs and the championship games are much different from the first, second round,” said Griffin. “If Coach feels that he can trust putting him in that situation, he will, but at the same time, if he’s not ready, we would be doing a disservice in putting him out there.”
Chances are Davis will be ready, and even if he isn’t, he’s going to have to be because, in his teammates’ eyes, he isn’t a rookie anymore.
“I had to gain these guys’ trust and I would say it means a lot, man,” Davis said. “I wouldn’t say this is something that’s normal, but for me being an undrafted guy playing with the defending champions, it’s just unbelievable.
“…You want these guys to be able to trust you and that’s something that I’m working towards every day. So I’m excited about the process, going to Orlando and really finishing out the season because we really have a chance to do it again, for sure.”
• A couple days ago, Mississippi governor Tate Reeves signed a bill to change the Mississippi state flag, removing the feature in the top left that prominently showed the Confederate battle flag.
Davis, a Mississippi native, was asked about what this means as a Black man who grew up in the state.
“For me, honestly, seeing the flag change was just incredible, man. The leaders in our state, they took the right steps to get the flag down,” said Davis. “I would say, just what it represented, now that it’s gone, that’s something we can celebrate, that we’ve taken the steps in the right direction.”
• Another topic brought up in Thursday’s Raptors call with the media was how the team would react to playing in an arena without fans.
Davis is unsure about how it’ll work and seems a little worried that it might affect his play.
“It’ll be different for me,” Davis said. “I play off crowd energy, even if we’re on the road. Like, if we make a bucket, I like to hear the crowd go quiet. It’s just part of the game, you know? So it’s gonna be different for everyone playing without fans. Because you really don’t know how much fans have an impact on things until there are no fans. So we’ll see how everything goes, but I definitely think it’ll be different.”
Added Griffin, who believes he as a coach will need to try to play the part of a fan sometimes to help bring that added juice to his team.
“As coaches, we’ve got to bring that energy ourselves,” Griffin said. “We’ve got to be into the game, be up cheering, clapping, giving instruction out there. It’s one of those things where all hands are on deck. It’s one of those situations where you can’t hide. That guy who is the 15th person on the bench, he is going to have to bring that energy as well. It’s gonna be fun.”
• Griffin’s reaction to “Skinny” Marc Gasol is all of us: “I had to do a double take. I won’t lie. I was so impressed about the way he looks. He just looks phenomenal.”