The subject of many debates this year, Patrick McCaw still put forward his best season as a pro.
At the beginning of the 19-20 season that nearly crawled into 2021, Nick Nurse openly lamented the defensive effort of some of the newer pieces on the Raptors roster. Those words served as a bellwether for the rest of the season – play defense, or don’t play at all.
A defense first mentality from Nurse & co. and Fred VanVleet’s permanent insertion into the starting lineup set the stage for McCaw to burrow his way into the rotation. McCaw is superior to Terence Davis (who is currently facing several charges, including third-degree assault and criminal mischief, and his situation is being investigated by the NBA) at the point of attack defensively, and McCaw himself looked like an improved offensive decision maker when on-ball. The Raptors came into this season looking for someone to display their merit and snatch the tertiary ball-handling role, and McCaw’s aforementioned qualities made him the player that Nurse (seemingly) trusted most outside of the Raptors excellent top-7.
McCaw is a really tough player to judge, because it’s an impressive thing to slide into the Raptors defensive unit and make a difference. However, he dismantled a lot of the cohesion and synergy on the opposite end of the floor. There was very little in the way of live dribble creation from McCaw this year, and he’s an extremely risk-averse passer (which cuts both ways, of course). So, it often seemed like his time spent above-the-break with the ball in his hands was without any consequence to the opposite team. He rarely created easy baskets for teammates, and was usually hitting guys coming off of screens or pin-downs. Stand at the top, let the guys run off-ball, and don’t turn it over.
The most frustrating part of his offense wasn’t when he was an initiator, though. McCaw’s hesitancy to shoot when the Raptors would swing the ball to him – and the defensive adjustments that followed – crippled the Raptors spacing. It could look, at times, like the Raptors were playing 4-on-5. By the numbers, it was extremely rare for McCaw to take anything beyond-the-arc that wouldn’t qualify as ‘wide open’. His presence forced his teammates into tighter pockets more often than not. Even with McCaw’s decent nose for basket cuts and swing passes, he still made things harder for his teammates more often than not.
Defensively, McCaw was a really nice player to launch at quick-twitch guards. To my eye, he was exceptional in ball denial above-the-break, like, really damn good at it. And his hyper-active and bouncy style fit well in the Raptors hectic and blitz-adjace defense. He needs to work on his screen navigation, but that didn’t stop him from hounding players regularly, and being generally disruptive. Depending on the matchup opposite of him, McCaw can really shine on the defensive end of the floor. He was squeezed into a pseudo-creators role this year, but he was most affecting when used as a defensive specialist.
During the season I was, admittedly, confused by the devotion to McCaw in the eighth spot of the rotation. I thought Davis presented a much higher ‘ceiling’ with his offensive punch, and it seemed like the Raptors should have been chasing ‘ceiling’ wherever they could, when their ‘floor’ was undeniably very good already. However (comma) McCaw laid the groundwork for a role, as a player. A role player, if you would. A better than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, 36-percent on catch and shoot threes, and defensive chops that show up in the analytics and pop in the eye-test, particularly above-the-break. These are all valuable skills and present a base to build upon for the 3-time champion.
McCaw was definitively underwhelming offensively, and promising defensively this year. He’s likely not a finished product (few are in the Raptors system) and the devotion to possessions with the ball in his hands could pay dividends down the line, should he become a player that the Raptors like to have on the roster for his ‘in a pinch’ dependability. He hit his very open shots at above league average for the most part, and brought his defensive acumen into every arena. He seemed stretched too thin in his offensive role this year (especially when a player like OG Anunoby was so hamstrung by his role) but it’s not like the Raptors needed to win more games in the regular season, and McCaw didn’t play in the bubble. He showed enough to warrant competition for that 8th man spot going into next year as well – be it against Matt Thomas, a new draftee, or a new free agent.
Have a blessed day.