The 2019-20 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.
December 18-December 31
We took last week off here at Swingin’ Wings, what with it being Christmas and all, so it’s been two weeks since we looked at the Toronto Raptors wing rotation.
And so. Much. Happened.
Norman Powell got hurt. Fred VanVleet came back. Stanley Johnson came back too! Terence Davis caught fire. Oshae Brissett played meaningful minutes! OG Anunoby got benched. Patrick McCaw... got good?!
Toronto also staged the biggest comeback in franchise history against Dallas, and played the first-ever Christmas Day game in Toronto. Phew! Overall the team went 5-3 in the eight games since our last column: not bad considering all the injuries. Let’s give a quick rundown of what it all means for Toronto.
Who did what?
Fred VanVleet started all seven games at the shooting guard spot since his return, and he’s been a steadying presence for the Raptors on the floor — but his shooting has been pretty terrible. He’s shooting just 36% from the floor and 33% from three-point range. But, his 6.6 assists, two steals and 4.3 boards show how much he’s contributing in other areas.
Norman Powell started for VanVleet against Detroit on the 18th, and got hurt in the fourth quarter. Before Powell got hurt, Nick Nurse had hinted at some starting lineup changes, possibly alluding to Powell starting and VanVleet playing the sixth man role. Obviously that didn’t come to pass.
With Pascal Siakam hurt, OG Anunoby has shifted down a spot to the power forward position. Given the team’s size and interchangeability, we’ll still include him here! Anunoby started every game at the PF spot the past two weeks, until last night, when Rondae Hollis-Jefferson got the nod. OG’s cold shooting — just 6-for-29 from downtown in the seven games before the benching — may have been a factor. Or maybe Nick Nurse is just playing mad scientist. Thankfully, OG shot 2-for-3 from deep against Cleveland.
Hollis-Jefferson too, then, has been playing a lot of power forward, but his minutes have been all over the map: 13 against Detroit, 37 against Indiana, three against Oklahoma City. I believe this is more due to matchups than to anything Rondae is or isn’t doing well.
Terence Davis has been the nominal sixth man, and has performed extremely well. In the past eight games, in 21 minutes a night, he’s averaging nine points on 52% shooting and 44% shooting from downtown. He made a big mistake in the closing minutes against OKC, forgetting to foul with the Raptors down one point, but he came back and scored 19 against the Cavs two days later.
Then there’s Patrick McCaw. Since Siakam and Powell went down, McCaw has started every game at the small forward spot. He’s been up and down, but did post the best game of his season (probably his career, actually) against the Celtics on the 28th, with 18 points (on 12 shots), eight assists and seven rebounds in 43 minutes.
Finally: Oshae Brissett, welcome to Swingin’ Wings! The rookie small forward cracked double digit minutes for the first time in his carerr against Boston on the 28th, and impressed with his energy, rebounding and defense. As such, he’s played 14+ minutes in each of the two games since. His box scores aren’t eye-catching but the intangibles are keeping him on the floor.
As for the rest of the bench, Stanley Johnson came back from his groin injury and played a couple minutes here and there — nothing to write home about. Matt Thomas remains out with the fractured finger. Malcolm Miller played stellar defense in the team’s big comeback against the Mavericks, but hasn’t found consistent minutes since.
Wing Stat of the Week: .678
That’s Terence Davis’s true shooting percentage over the past two weeks, an impressively efficient number for anyone, especially an undrafted rookie.
Wing Highlight of the Week:
Waiting two weeks to do this column means a lot of choice this time out! How about two undrafted rookies hooking up for the alley-oop:
(Also: Why does autocorrect always want to change alley-oop to alley-pop? What the heck is an alley-pop?)
(I probably just screwed myself by writing alley-pop twice, didn’t I? It’s never gonna learn it now.)
What are the Wings Saying?
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on the big comeback against Dallas:
It was electric, man, the energy, the atmosphere, it was pretty awesome. To see Kyle do his thing, I was like [looks to the heavens] ‘wooww,’ I’ve known him since I was a kid you know, so it was pretty awesome to see. I just told Kyle, I said I had like a little vision, when he hit one of the threes, of being back in Brooklyn against Sacramento, in Sacramento, when we made that comeback, so I was like, ‘wow, we have a chance to come back and do it.’ And then it just happened. It was kinda like... you could say I’m Houdini or something.
Hollis-Jefferson again, on how to generate a different outcome against the Celtics, after losing on Christmas Day:
We just let them play a little too free, you know? They’re a talented group, guys came make shots when they’re open, you just gotta make ‘em work hard, make ‘em work a little bit harder, make ‘em feel our presence, make ‘em go get it at the end of the day. We’ll live with the cross-cross, 15 dribbles and they score, we’ll live with that but we want to make sure that they have to get the movement and get the work in.
Patrick McCaw on his big night against Boston:
I was just out there playing my game and having fun. When you have guys like Kyle, and Fred, that are leaders, telling you to go out there and play my game and have fun, it’s easy to do that, and that’s all I did.
And McCaw on being in the playmaker role:
I think it’s easier when you have guys around you that can score and facilitate as well, and that’s always been kind of my natural comfort zone, just handling the ball and making plays for other and feeding off other guys.
What’s Coach Saying?
Just one quote from Nick Nurse this week. It’s a long one, about Anunoby’s improving footwork and how to keep getting better:
Mostly through reps. I think that’s probably one of the things, at the end of some of those plays, he just needs to get more reps for balance, you see some of the ones where he gets in there and doesn’t quite get to his base, or he gets off stride, or something and I think that you either gotta get to tw o feet, so you can get on balance, or you gotta go real slow in that “Euro,” and stay on balance as you’re going from one foot to another.
And he works on it though, I think everybody can see the improvement. We saw a couple of little-bit off-balance drives from him tonight, but over the course of the past four or five games we’ve seen a lot of really good straight line drive finishes from him, on either side of the basket.
And I like it, he got popped in there one time, and he took it in there and got popped again. So he is taking it with some force, with some determination which is good. I’d love to see him get — with his athleticism and body — he should get to the free throw line six or eight times a night, and that should really help him.
I like this quote because it shows what Nick Nurse looks for, some of that fine detail he keys in on that make him a good coach and showcases how the Raptors have become so good at developing players. And even though this was several games before OG’s benching, it may show what Nick Nurse wants from Anunoby; in the Oklahoma City game, the one before he was benched, OG took a season-high-tying seven three pointers, and missed all of them. Nurse might be looking for more action going to the rim from Anunoby.
What are the Rest of Us Saying?
TDII Hive assemble!
Terence Davis the best stretch-four in the league— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) December 30, 2019
Terry II with two straight threes sandwiching a steal. Not a bad personal run.— Daniel Hackett (@dhackett1565) December 30, 2019
Imagine not drafting Terence Davis.— Chris Walder (@WalderSports) January 1, 2020
Oh, that’s right. Literally no one did. Raptors scooped up a stud.
Wingman of the Week: Terence Davis II
I gotta give it to the rook! McCaw had his moments, but Terence Davis consistently delivered over the past two weeks.
(Um, except for, you know, maybe costing the Raptors a chance to tie the game against OKC. Rookie mistake! We’ll forgive it!)
I love Davis’ confidence and aggressiveness on offense, especially in big moments. Those two threes he hit against Dallas during the comeback (including the ridiculous heave off the Malcolm Miller steal) and that sequence against OCK that Daniel Hackett mentions in the above tweet? Those were huge shots from a rookie.
Learn from that one mistake, and keep doing what you’re doing on offense, Terence.