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Lewenberg: Back-up point guard gig is Buycks' to lose

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Josh Lewenberg
11/14/2013 7:07:30 PM
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MEMPHIS - Rookie Dwight Buycks sat in the corner of the visitor's locker room, headphones on one ear.

D.J. Augustin occupied the locker to his right, Julyan Stone directly to his left as the three point guards shared a laugh 60 minutes prior to tip-off in Memphis. Off the court they're good friends. On it they've been competing for the same job since the start of training camp.

It's been the Raptors' most problematic position early in the season but, at least for now, they have filled the vacancy behind starter Kyle Lowry at the point.

Buycks, seemingly an unlikely choice, has emerged from that trio of under-performing guards to earn a spot in Dwane Casey's rotation. Now, it's his job to lose.

"He's gained some ground," Casey told TSN.ca before his team's surprising victory over the Grizzlies Wednesday. "I thought he played with a lot of confidence against Houston the other night, he played with a lot of confidence against Utah. He's kind of stepped forward in that situation and [emerged]."

For the third straight game, Buycks was the first Raptors point guard off the bench in Memphis. He missed his only field goal attempt but converted all four of his free throws in just under 12 minutes of action. Augustin checked in with a minute left and the victory all but sealed while Stone was a healthy scratch for Casey's club.

"There's definitely [an] opportunity, for sure," Buycks recognized. "[Casey has] been saying that for a while now. We've been competing and making it tough for him."

"You've just got to stay ready and make the most of it. Most of all just go out there and have fun but at the same time it's a job, it's a business so you've got to take it serious."

He hasn't been spectacular - far from it, averaging just 3.4 points and 0.4 assists on 36 per cent shooting in five games - but he's been solid, precisely what Casey has been looking for from the leader of his second unit. When he's come into the game he's been aggressive and has made good decisions more often than not. Most importantly there hasn't been a noticeable drop off when Lowry goes to the bench, an ongoing concern when the incumbent Augustin would check in. Five games into his NBA career, Buycks has earned Casey's trust.

An undrafted rookie, Buycks was once considered the dark horse of this trio. Stone - who was kept on after a strong showing in camp - endeared himself to Casey with his versatility and defensive wherewithal while Augustin was given first crack at the job on account of his experience as a starter in the league.

Their skill sets differ and the sample size with Buycks is small, which suggests the rookie may be tied to short leash. As long as Casey's options at the position remain modest, at best, the competition will be ongoing even if Buycks continues to front the platoon.

"It's tough but at the end of the day we're teammates," said the 24-year-old. "We're all going to give it our all; we're pros, so you've definitely got to bring it. That's what makes it tough but that's what makes us love our job more."

Buycks is an unconventional NBA rookie, having spent last season playing professionally in France where he was awarded league MVP. Still, he's a first-year player and his teammates won't let him forget it.

"It's a rookie duty, a little gift from [Lowry]," Buycks said of the small bumblebee backpack that's been accompanying him on road trips this season. "It's not too bad. At the end of the day it's all fun and games."

"It wasn't a problem for me. I was laughing and smiling right with them when I found out I had it. So [I'm] just going along with the flow."

It could be worse, he pointed out. The team's three sophomores - Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross and Quincy Acy - all had to carry around pink bags along with a doll, Dora the Explorer or Bart Simpson. The bumblebee is slightly less conspicuous.

The advice he received from those three; "Just don't forget you're book bag. Bring it everywhere you go, don't forget it and you'll be alright."

Dwane Casey Dwight Buycks (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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