The Toronto Raptors are off to a 4-2 start in the first 6 games of the season and there are many things to be enthusiastic about. Their defence is still top of the league, Pascal Siakam has been playing at an elite level and Kyle Lowry is currently on pace to have the best season of his career. Yet, with Kyle logging in a league-high 38.8 minutes per game and his backcourt partner, Fred VanVleet, tied for second with Justise Winslow averaging 37.8 minutes per game, there is room for concern.
In essence, these players aren’t getting the rest they need. At least one of them seems to be on the court throughout each second of the game, as there’s no one Nurse trusts to relieve them. Norman Powell has been the most consistent option to get them to the bench, sliding him to the SG spot, taking one of them out and regulating the remainder to PG. Patrick McCaw was starting to pick up some considerable time too but is now out indefinitely with an injured knee.
The only other guards left are the Matt Thomas and Terence Davis. Despite these players only getting limited minutes, each has used them to show how much they can help this team. They have done such a commendable job making compelling cases for more minutes, that today I would like to recognize Terence Davis and what he has done up to this point.
The 6’4” shooting guard made quite the impression in the Summer League with a 22 point performance for the Denver Nuggets. This was followed up with the news of Toronto signing him to a 1+1 deal, which is more ideal for a player than the typical two-way proposals Davis could have taken. Coming out of the University of Mississippi, his versatility and aggressive mindset were the highlights of his game and as one may have expected, that’s what we’ve seen from Davis up to this point.
In the above clip, we see Davis matched up with Josh Hart who tries to make something happen once he receives a pass. Hart immediately tries to find some footing but is stumped by Davis. The ball is then dished to E’Twaun Moore who was hoping Terence Davis would continue to follow hart, crash into Norman Powell which would have given him an open three-point attempt. Instead, Davis recognizes this without fail and while he does fall for a pump fake three, he recovers and forces Moore to head directly to the defensive stalwart known as OG Anunoby.
This play showcases a good amount of physical capability, intelligence and awareness. Another play that stood out to me was one where he was tasked with guarding Lonzo Ball. Davis uses his strength to force Ball to the rim, where Serge Ibaka is positioned to contest and pressure Lonzo. When Terence gets Ball where he wants, he then repositions himself right in front of him for great contestation. This play could have worked, but he had jumped earlier than he needed to which resulted in a foul.
Only two plays in and we can already see that while he is a smart and physical defender, he has a bad habit of jumping when he does not need to. There are even more cases of this. Below, he decides to take on Brandon Ingram, who was leading the Pelicans in transition. He managed to stay in front of Ingram the whole time and even get close to him as he sped up in the halfcourt. However, he took a little leap when the 2016 2nd-overall draft pick was about to go up for his shot, which resulted in yet another foul for the undrafted rookie.
Regardless, he has shown some instances of discipline here. Like here, where he’s positioned between Jaylen Brown and the rim. Davis notices Daniel Theis cutting to the rim as Brad Wanamaker drives and garners the attention of Ibaka. Terence then readies himself for a likely pass to the attacking Theis which does come. However, instead of jumping to contest the shot which is what one may have expected from him, we actually see him resist from doing such and instead uses his presence to force the Celtic to go straight up at a prepared Ibaka.
I believe this is a result of the high-motor and aggressive nature Davis has been known to have. With that being said, I expect maturation from Davis as time goes on and for this to be cleaned up the more he plays. Regardless, that is really the only bit of criticism of his defence that I have for him at the moment. Aside from all the examples above, I would also like to credit his ability to create turnovers thanks to not only his aforementioned awareness but his timing too.
This time we see Jrue Holiday attempt to get the ball into the hands of JJ Redick in a way that is usually successful 9 times out of 10. Davis, however, forced the 1 failure. Completely locked in and aware, you can see him quickly pick up on what Holiday was aiming to do when he sees Redick cutting behind him in the corner of his eye and his anticipation for the pass led to him tipping the ball into the hands of Serge Ibaka. Or below, where Canadian rookie Nickeil Alexander-Walker tries to get the ball to E’Twaun Moore.
While both of these turnovers can partially be credited to poor decision making (especially the second one which was a terrible play and rookie mistake) there is still a lot of instinct and speed on Davis’ part. Terence is very eager to stop the opponents from getting (good) opportunities to score. Check out this play where he comes out of nowhere trying to intercept a fastbreak pass. Instead, he crashes into Jaylen Brown in what was a bit of a dangerous and thoughtless play.
Still, that high-motor is something I adore to see in any player. It is also something that has shown in his rebounding. Despite measuring in as 6’4” 205 lbs (per Basketball-Reference), his rebounding has been impressive. My favourite play involves Davis boxing out Jrue Holiday to sky above both Serge Ibaka and Brandom Ingram to pull down the rebound with dominance and assertion, which is something he tends to do to secure the ball to the fullest.
Another example is one that shows how driven the rookie can be. Seeing Redick attempt a shot, Terence peels around Ingram in the mid-range to soar for the rebound over a number of players standing around waiting for the ball to fall. Davis stands out here as the only player who is giving everything he has to get a simple defensive rebound and create an offensive possession for his team.
Speaking of offense, we have yet to discuss what Mississippi native brings to the table on that end of the court. Quite often I like what Davis has tried to do as a scorer, but he is not quite “there” yet as a player where he is capable of executing what he is trying to do and what you would want him to do. For example, an airball he shot here on an open look created by Kyle Lowry and a miss on a stepback.
These are looks Davis should have made or at least been able to hit the rim with. While the stepback can be considered a bit of a forced and undisciplined shot, I like seeing him confident enough to create a shot for himself in that way. These are all mistakes that I expect to be cleaned up with experience, and it’s not like Davis hasn’t been able to make anything anyway. He’s actually made 2 deep shots on 6 attempts. While one could criticize him for shooting 33%, it’s important to consider how the sample size kind of renders his percentage irrelevant for the time being (especially as he is working with tweaked mechanics).
Davis’ scoring inside hasn’t been much better, shooting 2/7 on two-point attempts at the moment. While the sample size claim is just as applicable here, he has seemed to have some blatant trouble finishing around the rim. For example, a drive against Milwaukee. It’s not hard to see that he’s just dashing up an unbalanced, contested, out of control and forced layup here.
Or here, where a mix between Davis’ good cut, exploitation of Brandon Ingram’s lack of engagement and Ibaka’s pass create a quality opportunity for a reverse layup. Terence takes the open attempt but misses, twice. This time around he was battling for more chances and not only not giving up, but only going up harder and harder with each attempt.
However, his real value offensively comes as a playmaker in my eyes. I enjoy this play where Davis gets the ball and is headed towards the corner, where Pascal Siakam is. Seeing as he’s the number one option for the team, the Pelicans defenders head towards both Davis and Siakam to try and prevent them from making anything happen. Terence recognizes this in the blink of an eye and without fail dishes the ball to an open Norman Powell who manages to sink a big open three. I also appreciate how he drove past Ingram into a waiting Jrue Holiday. Instead, he then gets it to Ibaka who can hook it into the rim over Derrick Favors.
There’s also this salvaged possession. After recovering a Fred VanVleet miss (yet another testament to his hustle), Davis takes a step towards the rim to fake a pair of Bucks defenders into thinking he’s going for the shot. As expected, they jump, which ensures an open shot from deep for Serge Ibaka. While the shot was a miss, the play itself was perfect. These showcased abilities make him a solid enough backup guard that can give Lowry and VanVleet the time to rest that literally any player ever should be getting.
There’s a lot to like from Davis, especially as an undrafted flier the team took. While he needs more discipline and polish overall, his defence, confidence, drive and playmaking are good enough at the moment where he should be getting more minutes than he currently is. Those minutes would also, in theory, lead to some of his play being ironed out and his approach to the game maturing a bit. Luckily Nick Nurse has implied not only Davis, but Matt Thomas and Chris Boucher will be receiving a few more minutes as time goes on.