Injuries have hampered the Toronto Raptors but they have been a blessing in disguise. It seemed as if the Raptors had limited bench depth, however, this recent west coast road trip has revealed their hidden talents.
When Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka went down with injuries it seemed like the Toronto Raptors would struggle since the bench had been underperforming. All those worries have vanquished because of the emergence of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris Boucher, Terence Davis, and Matt Thomas.
The Raptors won 3 out 5 games against some strong competition on this road trip due to their bench stepping up to the challenge. Can the bench keep performing this well for the duration of the season? Perhaps. They have proven themselves and have gained the trust of Nick Nurse and the rest of the fan base.
Strong play on the road trip
The Toronto Raptors surprised everyone with a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. It was in the second half where the Raptors showed how scrappy they can be. A lineup featuring Pascal Siakam, Davis, Hollis-Jefferson, Boucher, and Matt Thomas was able to extend the lead early in the fourth quarter. Boucher had two blocks against LeBron James (three on the night) and made some key baskets in the fourth quarter.
After an impressive win against the Lakers, the Raptors’ bench looked just as impressive in a close loss against the Los Angeles Clippers on a back-to-back. Unfortunately, Siakam had an off game shooting the ball and was probably exhausted playing the entire second half of that game. But, once again the Raptors bench played admirably as a team and were able to limit Kawhi Leonard to 2-for-11 shooting from the field for 12 points on the night.
Arguably the one player who has stepped up the most is Hollis-Jefferson. After not playing for five consecutive games, leading up to the Lakers game, he has shown why the Raptors brought him aboard. He has played solid defense and has found ways to effectively position himself on the offensive end around the dunker spots to get some easy baskets. Even with OG Anunoby going down early in the Clippers game, Hollis-Jefferson guarded Kawhi for most of the game and was impressive in containing him.
Davis and Thomas have shown the ability to hit three-point shots consecutively and that’s been key to spacing the floor. Three-point shooting seemed to be a problem heading into the season but the Raptors have shot 40.1-percent as a team on the season from three. The bench has shot an average of 39.1-percent from three. Davis and Thomas have been two of the main contributors in that category off the bench.
Despite losing to the Clippers and Dallas Mavericks, the Raptors had impressive victories over the New Orleans Pelicans, Lakers, and Portland Trail Blazers. The bench players have played very well and are removing any fears that this team might not have depth. With their play, Raptors fans can only imagine what this team would look like when it’s back up to full strength.
Key players off the bench
Hollis-Jefferson, Boucher, Davis, and Thomas all provide a unique set of skills that have helped sustain the losses of Lowry and Ibaka. This team has played well defensively and have been surprisingly good on the offensive end as well.
Hollis-Jefferson has averaged 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game and is shooting 58-percent from the field during this span. He has found his role on this team and has been the first man off the bench. He can keep guys in front of him on defense and can recover easily when the offensive player has a step on him. He does a great job at cutting off angles which allows him to recover and makes it tough for the opposing player to score.
His points mostly come off of energy plays and guys finding him in the dunker spots. Either by design or his court awareness. Hollis-Jefferson seems to know where to be when players drive and makes himself available for either dump off passes or in key spots within the offensive flow. Many fans were hoping he’d have a shot at cracking the rotation. Now that he got that opportunity he hasn’t disappointed.
Boucher has averaged 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 1 block per game. While shooting 53-percent from the field and 33-percent from three. With Ibaka out, Boucher has stepped up and has provided the Raptors with another interior presence. What he lacks in strength he makes up for it in length. Boucher’s length has allowed him to compete with stronger opponents for defensive and offensive rebounds.
Boucher has scored on a number of second-chance points and just like Hollis-Jefferson, he gives the Raptors another scrappy energy guy off the bench. He also the ability to stretch it out a bit and that has come in handy when he makes his threes. Boucher is not hesitant to shoot his shot and if he can shoot threes more effectively he can help space the floor and provide lanes for other players to drive to the basket.
Davis has averaged 11 points, 4 rebounds, and 3.3 assists while shooting an impressive 53-percent from the field and 52-percent from three. Davis is proving that he can become an impact player for this team. With each game, he has gotten a better sense of where he needs to be on the floor and what his role is.
His three-point shooting is one of the primary reasons he’s been so effective. As a point guard, Davis struggles a bit at running the offense without VanVleet or Lowry on the floor, but as the off-guard, he can space the floor and demand attention from the opposing team. Davis not only contributes on the offensive end but is also a solid defender. He’s got great size and is fairly quick which allows him to stay in front of his man and he rotates quickly on help coverage.
Thomas is a straight shooter. He has shot 50-percent from the field and 50-percent from three during this span. Although his shooting percentages have dropped slightly, it’s mainly due to the increase in minutes and uptick in the volume of shots. When Thomas is on the floor, opposing teams try to deny him the ball and play aggressively to fight over screens to contest his shots.
Thomas creates spacing and lanes for guys to drive but he still needs to improve in other areas of his game. Defensively he looks lost sometimes. One glaring example is in the Clippers game where Lou Williams torched him and caused him to make some silly fouls. There were a couple of moments where you could see VanVleet visibly upset at Thomas for his mistakes. He will need some time to get adjusted to NBA speed but he still provides the Raptors as a specialist for threes.
Next: One thing from every Raptors game last week
The Raptors bench has given newfound optimism to this team. The Raptors’ depth might be just as strong as last season. When Lowry and Ibaka return from their injuries it will be interesting to see how Nurse adjusts his rotations. The bench has really stepped up and has made this team so fun to watch.