He's only been with the Toronto Raptors for five games, but Pops Mensah-Bonsu has already become a fan favourite.
The free-agent signee has paid his dues in the D-League, playing overseas and brief stints with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs in the past few seasons. Raptors fans already see another player in the mold of the popular Jerome 'Junkyard Dog' Williams and his play has brought about some excitement in an otherwise challenging and frustrating season.
He's a free-agent again at the conclusion of the season and he's going to be sought after by any team that wants a guy that brings winning effort. The Raptors are fortunate to have him on their roster and are sure to have a good read on him by the time the season is wrapped up. I'm sure he's a guy that they'll want to sit down with in the off-season and see what's next.
Here are four attributes of Pops' game that I really like.
1. REBOUNDING: Pops has a nose for the ball and is both physical and active as a rebounder. He has awesome second and third effort in his game and brings a passion and toughness that you have to love in his pursuit for 50/50 loose balls.
2. DEFENSIVE ENERGY: He plays very hard. I like his lateral quickness and his willingness to fight through screens and close out on shooters. He is a guy that gets down in his stance and gives you 100 percent on each and every play. He can guard a few different positions and he's quick enough to guard on the perimeter and athletic enough to bang and out-quick you in the post area.
3. DETERMINATION/GRIT: The Raptors have lacked this on many nights and Pops brings a fierce determination and willingness to do the dirty work each game. The Raptors haven't been the toughest team this year, which makes Pops stand out that much more with the level of passion that he plays with each day. He changes the level of enthusiasm and energy on the floor with his teammates when he plays. It becomes contagious.
4. ATTACKS THE RIM: On a team filled with jump shooters and skilled players, he's more of a workhorse type who will battle you tooth and nail and get opportunities for you in the paint. He's looking to attack the rim and get high percentage shots inside and isn't looking to settle for three-point shots. He's a bit raw as far as his post skills, but he gets his game off with his superior quicks and athleticism around the rim in tight quarters. It's amazing what a little perseverance will do for you.
It's only five games into the 'Pops Era' in Toronto but you have to love what you've seen so far.
The key issues with Pops are: Can he sustain this for a good stretch of games? Is he just a flash in the pan that comes in late in a season and makes an impact in some games when his team is close to being out of the playoff race? If he were to be given a full contract by Toronto, or someone else, would you see the same from him over the course of an 82 game season?
All of those questions and more will begin to shape up as we go along through these final 15 games. At least it makes the games that much more intriguing to watch with a guy that has opened a lot of eyes in a short period of time. It's a fun story to watch unfold. It's always fun to root for the underdogs, and Pops Mensah-Bonsu is an underdog taking advantage of a great opportunity.
Hopefully, he can continue to seize the opportunity and be a productive player for the Raptors and in the NBA for a long time. The Raptors and the league need more players willing to lay it on the line each game and let it all hang out.
He does that and good for him!