The end of the End of Bench Chronicles for the Toronto Raptors?

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It’s not really the end of the season for the Raptors and the broader NBA. At least not yet. While the word “suspension” suggests an eventual release, a return to normal, some sort of restoration of the natural order, we all know the rest of 2020 will not proceed as it was supposed to. In that alternate universe, the Raptors play out the final 18 games of what had been their most enjoyable season to date and march into the playoffs as the defending champs looking to win again. We may never see a proper ending to that narrative.

The NBA is going to try though. At first, once the COVID-19 virus had hit the league, there was notice that the suspension would only be for 30 days, taking us right to the start date of the playoffs. But that talk was followed by other ideas in the air — games with no fans, games in practice arenas, games held in July and August. No one knows yet exactly how bad the situation could get. Everything is on the table; but also nothing is on the table.

For the Raptors’ bench, it’s not business as usual, but then again: it also sort of still is. All they can do, all any of us can do really, is take care of ourselves and our loved ones, try to stay the course on which we’ve been set, and prepare for what comes next. To that end, we’re looking back but also forward.

What else can we do?

Eighth Man Title Holder

It’s been ten days since the Raptors took the court to take on the Utah Jazz. In that final contest, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson almost worked his way to a double-double, Matt Thomas helped Toronto break some of the Jazz’s zone schemes, and Patrick McCaw played 42 minutes, though I’m not sure what that amounted to. Taken altogether, it was enough to help the Raptors secure their 46th win.

The point of this space was to eventually arrive at some answer as to who the Raptors’ eighth man truly was for the 2019-20 season. I’m going to go ahead and leave it blank here, though, which is in stride with the whole feeling for this year. In retrospect, it seems quaint now to reflect on all the injuries inflicted upon the Raptors over the past season. With the whole squad now in suspense until further notice, we didn’t realize how good we had it.

Roster Roll Call

Terence Davis

Trust Meter: 7 out of 10

Happenings: If there was an award for Best Story of the Raptors season, it would have to go to Terence Davis. He went from an out-of-nowhere Summer Leaguer, to a two-year deal with the main squad, to the owner of the most electrifying plays in a Raptors rookie season since Vince Carter. Yeah, we’re going there.

Now, we know Davis’ game is not complete. There are still things he must improve (his handle, his defensive awareness, his mental tenor, just to mention a few). But there’s not a galaxy out there right now in which he doesn’t become a useful and exciting NBA player. The Raptors lucked into something special — for nothing! — and we’re looking forward to what comes next from Davis.

Inspiration: It bummed me out when the Toronto Public Library announced it was shutting down due to Coronavirus. It’s a totally defensible move on their part, the correct one in fact — but that doesn’t lessen the attendant sadness (even with Kanopy and Hoopla still going strong). Right before it happened — and in knowing it was coming — I thought about all the books sitting on my hold list, and still more I haven’t even considered adding, and felt glum. It’s a small thing, I know, but who knows when those books will come my way now? When innocent institutions like the TPL are forced to close, a certain feeling of hopelessness settles in.

To fight back with hope though, we can remember the opposite truth: the TPL will be back (maybe as soon as April 6th), the books will eventually be on the move again, and — like Davis on the court — who knows what that will bring.

Patrick McCaw

Trust Meter: 8 out of 10

Happenings: There is but a single line intersecting the planes of McCaw’s existence and his ability on the basketball court. Said line almost surely beams right through the brain of coach Nick Nurse who sees things from McCaw the rest of us do not. It’s true that the Raptors’ erstwhile eighth man, often thrust into a much larger role due to team injuries, works incredibly hard to be, well, credible. He even sometimes does things that make you say, wow, this guy can play. But McCaw is still McCaw and he shall remain forever an enigma. That said: I miss him already.

Inspiration: The title of this column in particular — not the whole series — was inspired in part by Jonathan Franzen’s The End of the End of the Earth. Like McCaw, I get why people do not like Franzen. He’s a bit of a stuffy elitist, if we’re keeping real. But also, his writing gets at emotions and perspectives that I find tremendously affecting. That aforementioned book, a series of non-fiction essays, has Franzen reflecting on what climate change is doing (or will do) to the world and how humans are trying (and failing) to properly combat it. Again, I get why people won’t like it, and don’t like him — but I say go for it.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Trust Meter: 8 out of 10

Happenings: The man they call Chap has only ever been himself on the basketball court. At this point, Rondae’s game defies an easy description, or even a single name. He’s a forward, but he’s not that big. He has quickness, but he’s not a guard — because, of course, he can’t really handle the ball, and he definitely can’t shoot. He plays defense with a singular intensity, but is sometimes in Nurse’s doghouse as a result of where that leads him (see: out of position). In one sense Hollis-Jefferson can do it all, but in another, he’s hopeless at everything. Watching him play is akin to those “60 seconds of madness” bits they do in the Scotiabank Arena on most nights. All we know for sure is that it’s going to be loud.

Inspiration: Everyone can spend self-isolation as they wish, though the rules are the same for all. In this, I like to recommend Hollis-Jefferson find some real quiet time to give the vibrations of his mind and body a chance to rest and recharge. I’ve never used a meditation app, but that could help — or just go with some soothing and vaguely familar classical music. It works!

Chris Boucher

Trust Meter: 6 out of 10

Happenings: Setting aside Boucher’s recent grocery store misstep — which, really, is in line with his entire semi-reckless approach to basketball — it’s been a season of steady growth. Stand back and really think about it. At the beginning of the year we knew Boucher was the king of the G League, but it also felt like he was totally overmatched on an NBA court. Not so now, as he’s found ways to perform feats of shock and awe throughout the year. Boucher will likely only ever be a marginally effective big man — even in the modern NBA — but that’s more than we knew six months ago. And that’s not nothing.

Inspiration: Here’s a nice selection of information, care of Progress Toronto, about the current situation in the city.

Matt Thomas

Trust Meter: 5 out of 10

Happenings: Thomas only got up 75 threes in his first season of the NBA. He hit 35 of them, good for a shooting percentage of 46.7 percent, third highest in the league for players who’ve shot more than 50 threes. Not bad. On top of that, in the last couple of weeks it felt like Thomas was getting more comfortable on the move. He could let fly curling off a screen — his bread-and-butter play — or even fake the shot and find his way into the lane. And if that’s not enough, Thomas can always remember the time Stan Van Gundy called him “one of the best shooters in the world” on the broadcast. That’s big time.

Inspiration: This quarantine has brought me back to the days of spending untold hours playing computer games. If you’re of my generation (e.g. you were a teen in the 90s), there are some titles that really stand out. We don’t have to rhyme them all off here, you get my point.

Given our current lockdown situation, I’ve been playing a lot of 1999’s Pharaoh, the intricate real-time city building game that has the player constructing and managing all the elements of an ancient Egyptian city. You have to adapt quickly in Pharaoh while using your sometimes limited resources wisely. As it happens, these are also words for Matt Thomas to live by. In any case, you will no doubt notice (only much later) the time just flying by.

Stanley Johnson

Trust Meter: 1 out of 10

Happenings: We enjoy clowning on Johnson, but he’s had the right ideas all along. He’s been willing to go to the Raptors 905 to get some minutes in, he’s avoided being a disruption to the team, and he’s also ahead of the curve on something else:

Inspiration: Not Joey Graham. (Sorry!)

Malcolm Miller

Trust Meter: 1 out of 10

Happenings: Despite the years he’s put in, this season really revealed the limits of Miller’s game. We’ve been over this before and there’s not much else to say. He tried, but he’s also a shooter who’s not hitting his shots, and a defender not necessarily known for stopping anyone. You unironically hate to see it.

Inspiration: I’m only halfway through Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key, which his predecessor Raymond Chandler says he considered his best work. It’s the story of a resolute and charming (when he wants to be) operator named Ned Beaumont who does what he must to help his friend, Paul Madvig — even if said friend can’t quite help himself. I suspect things will end badly for Ned. If nothing else, Miller could enjoy such a book as Hammett really is a sharp writer. Miller also strikes me a bit as a Beaumont-type (though definitely not as mean). His (NBA) end probably won’t bring a smile to my face either.

Dewan Hernandez

Trust Meter: 1 out of 10

Happenings: We’ll see you next year, Dewan.

Inspiration: Remember how in the Coen brothers’ movie A Serious Man, a bunch of inexplicable events are inflicted about the film’s protagonist, Larry Gopnik, seeming to change his relationship to family, coworkers, friends, and God? Sure you do. Well, Hernandez can take comfort in that film’s final image: a huge tornado coming to blow the world away.

Did the Two-Wayers Play?

No, but then again…