February 24, 2023, 6:39 p.m.
It’s one of the toughest jobs in the NBA, a practice in which more candidates fail than succeed. The roster isn’t that great (at least by NBA standards) and the defense is next to none. If you succeed, your reward is to do it again, although who knows when your next opportunity will arrive.
If you fail, you may be out of a job entirely.
Jeff Dowtin Jr. Welcome to the professional basketball career of
The lanky 6-foot-3 point guard has hopes and dreams just like any other professional basketball player. Finding a reliable job in the NBA has proven challenging after starring at the University of Rhode Island, which makes him no exception. The NBA is a star-driven league, but it’s mostly about top players trying to prove themselves.
Dowdin Jr. is one of them. He’ll want consistent minutes, maybe a starting role, and it certainly comes with contract protection.
But for now, he will soon be 26 with 25 NBA games in two seasons on a two-way deal with his fourth organization.
He’ll only get a prorated amount of the league minimum while he’s with the Raptors, and a very small G-League rate while he’s with the Raptors at 905.
He can go weeks without playing in an NBA game (he’s appeared in only 16 of the Raptors’ 60 games so far), but then he’s given a chance and expected to take it.
Thursday night was one of those nights. With Fred VanVleet out of the lineup for personal reasons, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse decided to use Doutin Jr. as his primary point guard over Malachi Flynn and Dalano Panton.
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At least this is an opportunity that will give you another chance. The next one that stumbles may take weeks to arrive.
Dowdin Jr. has arrived.
The numbers don’t scream: Five points and three steals weren’t the starters in a 115-110 win. But the 19 minutes he played, spread over a long 13-minute gap between the first and second quarters, and then a six-minute run across the third and fourth bridges signaled Nurse’s confidence, more important than any score.
He defended the ball aggressively and worked hard to get his body between his man and the blocker, trying to break any action before they started. He is the veteran CJ of the wily Pelicans. He moves towards McCullum and never lets his shoulders hang down when he hits a bucket or two. He didn’t make any standout plays, but more importantly, he didn’t make any serious mistakes. In his situation, the latter is more important than the former.
Despite playing just 11 minutes last month, Dowdin was available when needed, a feat in a game where even the most popular players prefer regular minutes and predictable roles.
“You’ve got to be comfortable being uncomfortable,” Dowdin Jr. said this weekend as the Raptors practiced a series of back-to-back road games in Detroit on Saturday and Cleveland on Sunday. “That is the most important thing to me. Of course, everyone wants to play constant minutes, but it’s not like that. [for all players]. You have to find your niche, find ways to be effective in the training center, set aside extra time, and be prepared for the unexpected. Every time I go on the court to shoot or whatever, I think I’m going to play whatever. That’s just my opinion. «
Dowdin told Jr. that he would be playing the Pelicans before the game, with a specific assignment to match the energy and intensity José Alvarado generates off the bench. The Raptors have a lot of mouths to feed offensively right now, so Nurse is looking for someone to fit defensively.
He likes that Dowdin Jr. has shown he can bring his brief stints with the Raptors 905 this season. He’s willing to give him a chance to earn minutes ahead of Flynn and Panton. He delivers furiously, but never earns the nurse’s trust without the ball.
“I think he’s very good defensively,” Nurse said of his decision to go with Dowdin Jr. “He understood, he wasn’t scared. Like I told him before the game, I said, ‘Listen, I’m going with you tonight, you have to pair up with Alvarado here, you have to stay back. this type. He is supporting us; that’s the way he plays, you have to go out there and meet him. Also, I thought Jeff had you investigated.”
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For Dowdin Jr., the window is open on a better time. VanVleet, who missed practice Friday for personal reasons, isn’t expected to be out for long, but it’s likely he’ll be out of the lineup for Saturday’s noon start against Detroit.
Another of Dowdin Jr.’s season highlights came in a November 14 road win against the Pistons, where he played a crucial 15 minutes, four minutes in a close game, with VanVleet out of the lineup.
With the Raptors closing in on a playoff run, the possibility of Dowdin Jr. finding his way to the fringes of Nurse’s rotation could pay off in a big way. Players with two-way contracts are not eligible to play in the postseason, so showing that he’s a constant contributor, even on inconsistent minutes, could help Dowdin Jr. gain a little more job security.
“I mean it’s definitely on the table,” Nurse said. “But I break everything down and simplify: I’m trying to get a little update. [at back-up point guard] AND [we’ll see if Dowtin Jr.] Whether it’s a small update or not… we have to find out and now is the time.”
Dowdin Jr. will be ready. His job may depend on it.
“I come to every game thinking I’m going to play,” Dowdin Jr. said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”