In a season where the Toronto Raptors are trying to figure out what’s what with their young core, head coach Nick Nurse has consistently asked his players to make the most of their opportunity.
It started with challenging Pascal Siakam to become ‘The Man,’ then committing to Fred VanVleet as his second guard alongside Kyle Lowry. Challenging new faces to come to grips with what Raptors basketball is has become a part of his championship pedigree, and some have snatched the opportunity like VanVleet and Siakam, and others have drowned.
Terence Davis impressed during both training camp and pre-season, and was the first non-title-winning piece to see playing time during the regular season. Nurse is enamoured with Patrick McCaw’s basketball IQ and length, so he slid into the rotation after returning from injury. But McCaw is out once again — this time for an extended period — and Davis looks determined to ensure he leaves no doubt about where his playing time should be regardless of who’s available.
On Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers, Davis set a career-high with 13 points while playing strong defence and he repeated the trick Wednesday despite being the last of the new bench core to enter the game. He amassed 15 points and six rebounds while finishing the Raptors’ 114-106 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers with a team-best plus-19 while playing all of his 31 minutes over the final three quarters.
At the beginning of the season, it was evident Davis preferred being off the ball. As an undrafted rookie, being asked to run an NBA offence proved to be an uphill challenge and playing alongside either of VanVleet or Lowry allowed him to play instinctually. With Lowry out, he’s had to assume more primary ball-handling duties, but Nurse once again showed how he’s able to put players in position to succeed. Alongside Marc Gasol, the pressure of being a release valve for the offence is lifted some, and Davis has also shown some nice chemistry playing off Chris Boucher at the four-spot.
In the second quarter, they dazzled in tandem. First, Davis utilized Boucher’s movement to create an open look. After receiving a kick-out from Boucher off an offensive rebound on the right extended elbow, Davis was able to go strong to the rim as Portland struggled to get in position with Mario Hezonja distracted by Boucher relocating to the right corner. The next trip down the floor, after receiving a screen up top from Gasol, Davis probed the lane and found a cutting Boucher from the right corner and dropped a sweet bounce pass that saw Boucher miss a reverse lay-in. And then, on the third consecutive offensive possession, it was Boucher who provided for Davis once again with a kick-out to the right extended elbow after looking to attack Anfernee Simons and the result was a triple that cut Toronto’s deficit to two.
The question mark entering the season was his jump shot, and he’s made 9-of-20 from beyond the arc thus far this season, three of those makes coming against the Blazers. Will he be able to maintain that level of excellence over the course of an entire 82-game season? It’s unlikely. But after shooting 32.3 percent from deep over his first three seasons at Ole Miss, he took a notable stride forward with 37.1 percent shooting in Year 4. If he can maintain the shot selection and lift he’s had thus far, he looks to have, at the very least, a shot that’s respectable even if the currently lethal percentage dissipates.
The poise has been there from Day 1. Davis has continually played as though he just belongs on the NBA hardwood. When a shot is presented to him because teams want to test his range, he rises up without hesitation. When he’s had to switch or provide help on a player with a size advantage, he’s taken on the challenge with open arms.
These moments have to be snatched.
Malcolm Miller received his first start of the season with OG Anunoby ruled out due to a right eye contusion (he’s expected back Saturday against Dallas), played the first seven minutes and never saw the floor again. Stanley Johnson was given five minutes and he, too, couldn’t impress enough. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was spectacular in his role for the third time in three games and looks to have cemented his place in the rotation. Norman Powell has been given the starting role in Lowry’s absence and has remained as hit-and-miss as ever. There are no guarantees on who will and who won’t see the floor, but playing smart, hard, and executing what’s asked of you on both ends goes a long way in bettering your chances.
Each player has their own set of skills that they bring to the table, but when Nurse highlighted earlier this year that the key for those on the outside looking in had to bring defence first and let the offence be a bonus, Davis always looked a likely candidate to fit that mould.
With another few weeks to go before he even has to look over his shoulder, the silhouette of the backup guard minutes is looking very much like his frame.
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