Like many other 90’s babies, a staple of my childhood was Malcolm in the Middle. Each Thursday I’d glue myself on my beanbag chair and watch the cult-classic. Malcolm was always the straight-man, a conduit for the viewers amidst his dysfunctional family and chaotic world.
So what the hell does a sitcom that has been off the air for over a decade have to do with the 2020 Toronto Raptors? Actually, not much.
In fact, on Wednesday night nearly every single Raptor was hyper-functional and doused any moments of a potential chaotic comeback by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Well, all except for one man, whose repeated uninspiring performances continue to draw the ire from every person not named Nick Nurse that watches the Raptors play this season. Like it or not, Patrick McCaw is firmly in the middle, obtruding upon what has been an otherwise incredible season thus far for Toronto.
Nostalgia paints things in a rosier picture. I’m sure that not every line from the show was a zinger and that it wasn’t quite as perfect as my recollection insists (although I attest that Dewey remains the cutest kid to ever feature on a television show, ever.) Likewise, when reflecting upon the 2019/20 Raptors season in the future, the decision-making by Nick Nurse to continually run McCaw during regular season games may not look quite as egregious. If we learned anything from last year’s championship run it is that these are 82 practices being played out in front of us. But right now, in this very moment, it is unacceptable to allow McCaw to be in possession of his current role on the team.
It is malpractice to leave Norman Powell, who was torching the Thunder, off of the floor while McCaw attempts to single-handedly flounder a thirty-point lead in crunch time. It is unjust that Terence Davis II, this year’s diamond in the rough, has his development stunted in order to hand empty calorie minutes to the back-to-back-to-back champ. It just doesn’t make sense that Nick Nurse, front-runner for Coach of the Year honours and unequivocally a masterful tactician, insists upon this rotational decision.
Yet here we are.
Like the famed ‘circle game’, everytime McCaw allows his matchup to blow by him or defers on an open three-point shot, you are now allowed to punch your viewing partner in the arm. Trust me, it turns into a therapeutic form of anger management.
McCaw finished Wednesday night with his typical six point, five assist stat-line that wouldn’t warrant a second glance. McCaw’s game typically elicits this response; he is Houdini-esque in his ability to go twenty minutes on the floor without even being seen. However, McCaw decided to take on a prominent role in the team’s attempted collapse early in the fourth quarter. With just over six minutes remaining in the game Toronto held a 21 point lead. McCaw was promptly cooked by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on his way to the rim for an and-one. On the ensuing possession Dennis Schroeder quickly picked McCaw’s pocket and darted down the court, to which McCaw responded by fouling and once again allowing an and-one opportunity. It was a tortuous stretch, by the time McCaw finally returned to the bench the lead had shrunk to only eight.
The collapse cannot entirely be blamed upon McCaw, in a team sport it never truly is one individual’s fault. But even in other circumstances his presence is a continual net negative. The offence tanks to a 101.6 rating when McCaw is on the floor, a far cry from the team’s 108.9 rating. Granted many of McCaw’s heavy minutes have come in the make-shift lineups that battled to stay afloat during the injury crisis, but his -4.8 net rating is by far the lowest on the team. The hypothetical defensive upside isn’t even there.
It is difficult to question Nick Nurse. He won a freakin’ NBA title in his year as head coach and has probably forgotten more about basketball than I’ll ever know.
Yet, something just doesn’t add up.
Even the few that remain who scoff at analytics cannot deny that McCaw’s performances fail to pass the eyeball test. The hesitancy and lack of quality that personifies McCaw’s jumpshot is a slash at the achilles of Toronto’s offence on each possession. His defence is the lesser of his weaknesses, but he still gets bulldozed by screens and is often beaten at the point of attack. Modern day defensive dynamos boast positional versatility, yet McCaw really doesn’t have the frame to deal with the stronger wings that dominate the league. He is a defensive specialist on smaller guards. The Raptors other specialist, sharpshooter Matt Thomas, only gets utilized in very specific scenarios… hence the term specialist. McCaw must be slid into the role of spot minutes and then the occasional run when matchups present themselves.
The next week will be telling. McCaw’s consistent role was questionable to begin the season but made sense for continuity’s sake. His presence over the past month was understandable given the slew of injuries that rocked Toronto. But now with VanVleet’s impending return the Raptors have a fully-stocked cupboard and other depth pieces have shown plenty more than McCaw over the first half of the season.
Toronto have prided themselves on their development system. They have unearthed gems, turned fringe players into regular contributors, regular contributors into starters, and starters into stars. The organization has rarely failed on a project, but it may be time to cut their losses with McCaw.