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Swingin’ Wings: Injuries force Nick Nurse to go deep

With injuries mounting, Toronto had to rely on its wing depth to stay afloat last week. How did this group of reserves measure up?

Swingin’ Wings Toronto Raptors wing rotation: Injuries force Nick Nurse to go deep, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The 2019-20 Toronto Raptors are not only defending their championship, they’re also replacing two starters at key positions on the wing. Each week on Swingin’ Wings, we’ll be tracking the progress of those possible replacements.

November 6-12

It’s been an exciting seven days since the last time we were here! The Toronto Raptors went 3-1 since then, and the last two games were thrillers in LA — thrillers in which Toronto went much deeper into its wing rotation than it has at any point this season.

Of course, relying on that deeper rotation was forced upon Nick Nurse by injuries to Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka during last Friday’s victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, and to OG Anunoby during Monday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

As unfortunate as those injuries are, they have afforded me the opportunity to write something other “OG’s really good, you guys” here in this space! Let’s get to it.

Who Did What?

OG Anunoby started all four games at the three, but his early injury held him to two minutes against the Clippers.

Fred VanVleet started against Sacramento and New Orleans at the two, but shifted over to PG in Lowry’s absence; Norman Powell started both LA games at the two.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson got his first taste of extended action in LA, and Matt Thomas and Terence Davis also played 12.3 and 14.3 minutes per game, respectively, over the four game span.

Stanley Johnson... was there. More on him below.

Malcolm Miller played five minutes against the Pelicans, but didn’t get a shot off.

Wing Stat of the Week: .667

That’s Matt Thomas’ three-point shooting percentage this week — he went 6-for-9 from downtown in the four games. Not bad! Overall Thomas is sitting on a .643 percentage on the season, on 2.0 attempts per game. Now, Thomas has been a bit of a mess on the defensive end, but when you can shoot the ball that well, coaches will always find a few minutes for you to get up some looks.

Wing Highlight of the Week

Thomas got the stat of the week, so why not the highlight? Thomas had a Reggie Miller-esque five-points-in-3.2-seconds sequence at the end of the first quarter against the Lakers, starting with this three point bomb on which he was fouled by Kyle Kuzma:

Matt Thomas three-point basket vs. LA Lakers

He missed the FT, but scored a buzzer beater on the next play after the rebound went out of bounds:

Matt Thomas buzzer beater vs. LA Lakers

What are the Wings Saying?

Norman Powell, on being ready for your opportunities:

It’s everything. I talk to Chris (Boucher), I talk to Rondae, every day about keeping their mental focus, keeping ready for their opportunities... I’m really excited and happy for those guys, they came in there and did their thing, so now I’m telling them to keep that same energy, that same focus and keep chipping away at it.

Powell again, on the doubters following the departures of Kawhi and Danny Green last summer:

We’re not worried about that, we don’t really listen to the outside, we stick to our internal, our beliefs and we know what we can do, we got the guys to go out there and compete at a high level. We believe in ourselves and that’s all that matters. And those guys made personal decisions for themselves, there’s no grudges or hard feelings over that.

Fred VanVleet, on shutting Danny Green out (and maybe disagreeing, slightly, with Norm):

Oh for sure, we know all of his tricks now, so we were tuned into him, didn’t want to give him any free looks. We know how good of a shooter he is, and you gotta try to not let him get anything clean. He missed a couple but we always wanna beat up on Danny from here on out.

What’s Coach Saying?

On Terence Davis II, and fouls:

He needs to get out there and play, so I’d like him to get out there and not foul as much. He’s gonna just have to learn, right, there’s some holding fouls early in possessions, you can’t get caught — you gotta be able to hold and take your hands back, hold and take your hands back, that’s something you’ve got to learn: how long they’ll let you keep ‘em and take ‘em off when you’re off the ball. But we’ll keep throwin’ him out there, it’s good experience for him.

On Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s effort against the Lakers:

It’s a little bit who he is, he’s not the most skillful guy, he gets everything done on effort, right, he just went out there and played hard, and the ball found him a few times and he made some great finishes, I thought. Ran down a couple loose balls, that’s kinda what he is, and he doesn’t need to keep much sharp because he plays so hard — he just went out there and did his thing.

What Are the Rest of us Saying?

Stanley Johnson played three minutes against the Lakers. They did not go well.

I don’t really want to turn this into an ongoing Stanley Johnson slander section, but there is a lot of room for improvement from Stanley here.

Wing of the Week: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

All right, it’s entirely unfair of me not to award this to OG Anunoby, who had, statistically, the best week of any Toronto wing. But voter fatigue has set in! (Yes, I am the only voter. I’m exhausted.)

For a guy who wasn’t entirely healthy and seemed to be in the doghouse, to see Rondae Hollis-Jefferson come in and give that kind of effort against two of the best teams in the league, that deserves recognition. RHJ played a total of 34 minutes against the Lakers and Clippers, scored 19 points and pulled down 12 rebounds, and spent almost all of his minutes on the defensive end guarding Lebron James and Kawhi Leonard, and he’s your Wingman of the Week.