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Terence Davis arriving sooner than expected

Terence Davis was supposed to be a project this year, a wing-turned-point guard who would be able to learn the trade from Hall of Famer Kyle Lowry and mentor Fred VanVleet. Davis’s athleticism was clear entering the year, but the undrafted guard out of Ole Miss had several players ahead of him on Toronto’s depth chart entering 2019-20. The benefits were clear early in the year. VanVleet, especially, formed an early bond with a new teammate with whom he shared so many connections. Davis’s career outlook seemed positive, even if it might be some time before he broke into the actual rotation.

Instead, Davis has time warped his career forward at Ludicrous Speed. In a lopsided victory over the Charlotte Hornets, Davis scored 16 on only seven shots, hitting 4-of-5 from deep. He added seven assists, showcasing his point guard skills that were supposed to take far longer to develop. He’s shot forward, surpassing expectations, and becoming a key rotation piece in only a few short months. He has made ’em believe, including those who decide whether he gets in the game or not.

I think explosive is a word that suits him, he’s an explosive athlete,” said Nick Nurse after the game. “My favourite thing about him is the way he vaults up to shoot. He is a good shooter, a deep shooter, he’s got a strong body, strong legs, he’s not afraid to take shots, and he can be explosive like that. He’s a talent man.”

Much of the reason why Davis is getting into games, and thriving while he’s out there, is because of his newfound opportunity. With Lowry and Pat McCaw sidelined with injury, there are minutes at the guard and wing spots for grabs. Davis has staked his claim to those minutes with as much fervor as the United States used in claiming the moon. Part of Davis’s success stems from himself being a believer.

Confidence is a big thing,” said Davis after the game. “Playing more minutes, knowing I’ll actually play and just being ready when my time comes. That’s what’s got me that confidence.”

Some of Davis’s shots were heat-checks against the Hornets. All of his scoring came in a short, four-minute stint in the fourth quarter. His first triple came after great ball movement, on a wide-open shot from the corner. He followed that with another triple, this time a contested shot from straightaway. One more triple from the corner. Only moments later, he added a dunk and another deep bomb. Davis turned a large lead into a decided result with six minutes left in the fourth. He isn’t an empty scorer, but instead a bench energizer who impacts the game. That’s difficult for a rookie.

Davis’s strong play isn’t just benefiting himself; he’s clearly making the Raptors a better team. For a Toronto team lacking some scoring oomph with Lowry and Ibaka on the shelf, Davis has stepped into an important role. His net rating of 11.4 is second on the team within the rotation, behind only MVP candidate Pascal Siakam. His assist percentage of 18.5 is fourth on the team, behind only the point guards Lowry, VanVleet, and MVP candidate Pascal Siakam. His assist-to-turnover rate is highest on the team, better even than MVP candidate Pascal Siakam. It’s early in the year, and sample sizes remain a large caveat, but the numbers speak to Davis’s ability to help the team while on the court. That’s rare for a rookie guard, especially one who’d being asked to run the offense from the point guard spot for the first time in his life.

That Davis is passing well and recording highlight plays with his athleticism isn’t surprising. Perhaps the most shocking part of his development is his jump-shot. He’s averaging 46.4 percent from deep on 2.2 attempts a game, which is partially the result of a hot streak to start the year, but also indicative that he could very well be a real shooting threat at the NBA level. Davis shot 37 percent from deep as a senior, but he wasn’t billed as a dead-eye coming out of college. He’s worked on his shot since then, building it to correct some fundamentals.

It’s just about reps, man,” explained Davis. “Coach Jim Sann, he helps me with my balance, staying balanced, feet balanced, feet facing the rim, ‘cuz I kind of get pigeon-toed, sideways. It’s just about balance. It’s just something we’ve been focusing on… From just getting my arm right in front of me, having a gateway where you can see the rim.”

Davis’s improvements are paying off. When minutes were available, Davis took them. But opportunity isn’t everything. Davis has seized his chances, and the emphasis has to be on Davis’s play and not simply on Lowry’s injury. When Toronto’s star point guard returns, Nurse will be hard-put to shove Davis’s Pandora of talents back into the box.

Davis is just another in the long line of incredible developmental success stories in Toronto. Siakam, VanVleet, Anunoby, Powell: all have grown into far bigger contributors than their draft placement — or lack thereof in the case of VanVleet — would have predicted. On Toronto’s fully healthy roster, team rookies Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson were the highest drafted. Toronto has performed alchemy in its developmental program, and it’s common to hear from newcomers to the Raptors that they chose to play in Toronto because of the history of development. It’s part of why Davis chose Toronto, too.

That development program has been working overtime with Davis. He’s leaped from an undrafted project to a promising rookie to a rotation contributor. His concrete skills, like shooting and passing, have taken jumps forward. Well, now we all believe, and probably earlier than Davis himself expected. It’s time for Davis to figure out what the next slogan will be.

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