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.
Now this is more like it! When I envisioned this column prior to the season, I imagined I’d get to write different tidbits each week about all the various wing players the Raptors had imported over the summer, plus holdovers like OG Anunoby and Norman Powell, and that’d keep me — and you, hopefully! — interested.
Then Nick Nurse kept a tight rotation those first few weeks, and this column was pretty much the OG Anunoby show.
Now, finally, thanks in part to injury but also in part to solid play up and down the roster, we’re finally seeing regular play from (almost) all of the wing players. That depth helped the Raptors to a 2-1 week as they wrapped up their West coast road trip and returned home.
Who Did What?
With Kyle Lowry still hurt, and Fred VanVleet starting at PG, Norman Powell started all three games at shooting guard.
Malcolm Miller started in Anunoby’s place in Portland, and unfortunately, did not impress. He didn’t play after the first quarter against the Blazers, or at all in Dallas, and only got garbage time minutes against the Hornets.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson came off the bench in each game and had a huge impact, scoring inside and crashing the glass.
Sticking with the bench squad, Matt Thomas has become a threat that defenses respect thanks to his dead-eye shooting; Terence Davis had a rough night in Dallas but was impressive in the two wins.
Stanley Johnson played five minutes against the Blazers, but didn’t play in Dallas and sat out Monday’s game with a groin strain.
Wing Stat of the Week:
Terence Davis scored 15 points against the Trail Blazers, setting a career high in scoring.
He topped that two games later with 16 points against the Hornets.
Sure, those two games sandwiched an underwhelming two-point performance against the Mavericks. But inconsistency is not unexpected from a rookie, and scoring in double-figures twice is impressive.
Wing Highlight of the Week
I wish I was skilled enough at video editing to make a highlight reel of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson chasing down loose balls and offensive rebounds! Hopefully this tweet, featuring one of each, will do:
If only that clip had included Hollis-Jefferson scoring in the lane, something else he did a high rate last week: He was 16-for-24 on the week, and only one of those shots — one! — was outside the paint.
What are the Wings Saying?
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, with some honesty about not knowing when he might get his opportunity:
Man, it’s tough, you know, you go through those moments you don’t really wanna go through as a competitor. It really comes down to just being confident in yourself, and having a good support system, I meditate a lot, so it kinda helps me stay balanced, stay home, you know. And I talk to my son a lot, he doesn’t say much, but just seeing his face, seeing his smile... actually it’s funny, I saw him fall of his bed today, he bounces up, cries for like two seconds, then starts laughing. Those moments help me stay locked in and stay focused.
Hollis-Jefferson, on his rebounding effort against Charlotte:
We got out-rebounded pretty bad last game, so [I’m] just trying to come out, get my hands on any loose ball, any rebound that I can. I’d say it’s a mix of everything, wanting the ball, being in the right place, going to get it, believing that your teammates will box out along with yourself, there’s a lot of variables with rebounding. But for the most part, you gotta have that will to wanna go get it.
Matt Thomas, on his contributions against Dallas, mainly on defense:
My teammates were able to get me a couple open shots, and I was just able to knock ‘em down. I just need to continue to work, on both ends of the floor, to try and stay out there for consistent minutes. I was guarding Seth Curry in the minutes while I was out there, but it’s just knowing, knowing personnel, like I’ve said before just knowing who you’re guarding, where you’re influencing, knowing the gameplan, knowing where your help’s at. And like I said that’s going to continue to be a process but those are controllable things that I need to make sure that I do every night.
Also — are we getting wing beef?! (I kid, I kid!)
What’s Coach Saying?
On Matt Thomas, getting reps and hard work:
Matt’s... probably his whole life [has been] that kinda guy, a really good shooter as a youngster and a high schooler, he was a great shooter in college, I remember seeing him play at Iowa State, and then he went to Spain and I believe he let the league in three-point shooting last year, and that’s a heck of a league to do that in, at a very high percentage.
But I give him a ton of credit too, because he’s worked since he’s been here too, at some things, and when we first kinda saw him he was struggling a little bit, didn’t seem to be making as many as we though he should be [and we] gave him some work to do, some suggestions on some guys to watch in the league, and again, if you kinda point these guys in the right direction on some things, then they adjust it, they look at the film, then they go the court and work. And he’s extended his range already since being here, he’s really extended his separation, you see how hard he comes flying out of the corner sometimes, those are things that he’s worked on in the few months that he’s been with us. I give him credit for that as well and it’s valuable for us, to be able to come down, and call his number and he can do whatever he needs to do to come flying off there open.
On Norman Powell’s contributions and inconsistency:
We’ve seen some really great play, a little bit up and down. Listen, I think, I wish we could pencil him in for about 16 each night rather than 26 one and zero the next, or 21 and four or whatever. But he’s certainly capable, offensively.
On whether or not Powell can become more consistent:
I always look at these things as, yes, there’s something there we need to fix. We don’t expect him to do it every night, 20-plus every night, but maybe instead of it being one out of four nights we can get it to one out of three, and we chip away at it. Then maybe two out of four and then maybe three out of five. We kind of chip away so that it becomes more of a consistent thing. I would have said that about Serge [Ibaka] a little bit in the past. There were unbelievable games, like one out of four, and now he’s pushed that up to probably three out of four where he’s a force out there.
(Following those comments, Powell had 17 points and six assists against Hornets.)
What Are the Rest of us Saying?
I think it’s safe to say that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is earning himself some fans.
motion to change one of the days of the week to Rondae— Sean Woodley (@woodleysean) November 19, 2019
Masai got Hollis-Jefferson for $2.5 million— JD Bunkis (@JDBunkis) November 19, 2019
so rhj is the raps’ best roll man, huh?— Joe Wolfond (@joey_doubleyou) November 19, 2019
Wing of the Week: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
There was some stiff competition this week! Norman Powell had two great games; OG Anunoby had a career-high 24 points against Charlotte; Terence Davis set his career high twice. But Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was great in all three contests, averaging 13 points (with a .720 true shooting percentage), 7.7 rebounds and one steal. He's won the hearts of Toronto fans and firmly entrenched himself in the rotation by playing hard on defense, and that’s all good enough for our Wing of the Week award!