Raptor of the Week: DeAndre’ Bembry

Over this ridiculous week of basketball, the Toronto Raptors have been put through the ringer. First losing half their coaching staff to COVID precautions, then having a gimme win against the Pistons pushed back, then having their right arm chopped off via the loss of OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Fred VanVleet, forcing the likes of DeAndre’ Bembry to eat up minutes.

This week saw the hobbled Raptors forced play back-to-back games against two Eastern Conference rivals unarmed and unprepared.

The Raptors knew that if they wanted to win these short-handed games they were going to have play impeccable defense, receive near-perfect games from Kyle Lowry, Chris Boucher, and Norman Powell, and hope that a few of their deep rotation guys step up.

That is always to be expected when missing key players, but it was the Raptor’s specific absences that caused even more alarm.

With VanVleet, Siakam, Patrick McCaw and Malachi Flynn sidelined, Who would handle the ball during the team’s Lowryless minutes? Who would run the offense? Would interim head coach Sergio Scariolo entrust the trigger-happy Terrence Davis? Things looked bleak.

DeAndre’ Bembry helped prevent disaster for the Raptors

For those who remember Bembry in Atlanta, he was earning starters minutes in the backcourt alongside Trae Young. Trae, for all his prodigious skill and talent, remains a fully licensed ball hog who, in 2019, notched the 32nd highest usage rate in NBA history with 34.9%.

This left little to no time for Bembry to learn to run an NBA offense, but in this sharpest of pinches he came through for the Raptors. Granted the team still lost its games against the Pistons and Celtics, but most fans would agree they gave both teams a better fight than would have been expected.

That same expectation comes with the juicy stats some of Bembry’s teammates put up. For all the high praise, Bembry did not score much this past week. Nor did he dominate the game distributing. No, the Raptors did not win the minutes with Bembry on the court.

Contrast this to the 19 assists from Kyle Lowry on Thursday, Boucher’s 30-points that same night, and Norman Powell averaging 30 for the week and one might wonder why the Raptor of the Week is this scruffy wing from North Carolina.

Two reasons.

First, those stats put up the other guys are swollen by the extra touches and minutes they played this week. They are impressive, sure, but ultimately inconsequential. Terence Davis is a perfect example. He put up 22 points in his 32 minutes against the Celtics. Great! But for anyone who has watched Terence Davis you’ll know that he’s shooting every time he sniffs the ball.

Second, Bembry offering himself as more of a ball-handler just gives Toronto one more wrinkle to throw at teams come playoff time. It’s well known that Coach Nurse’s greatest strength is the fluidity with which he coaches games. The more tools in his toolbox, the more dangerous he is,  and the added weapon of Bembry as a ball-handler is, however small, another tool.

That’s why he’s the Raptor of the Week. Not because he put up big stats in meaningless midseason losses, but because he showed us all something we hadn’t seen before, and because it might help Toronto win bigger games down the road.