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Swingin’ Wings: It’s Norman Powell’s world and we’re just livin’ in it

Welcome to Swingin’ Wings, aka the Norman Powell Appreciation Society.

Swingin’ Wings Toronto Raptors wing rotation: It’s Norman Powell’s world and we’re just livin’ in it Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

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.

January 14-21

When the season started, if I were to admit any bias, I’d’ve said “I really hope Norman Powell is the one who steps up and fills the gap left by Danny Green.” OG Anunoby seemed like the natural candidate to fill Kawhi Leonard’s shoes, but shooting guard was a bigger question mark — and after four inconsistent years, I hoped that Powell would seize the opportunity.

Powell showed out in the preseason, but come the regular season, old inconsistent Norm was back, and Fred VanVleet took over the starting two-guard spot.

But since those rocky first seven games, Powell has scored 14 or more points in 20 of his 25 games, and 20 or more in eight of his last nine.

VanVleet is still starting, but Powell’s scoring punch and ability to stretch the defense, while playing solid defense himself, has made a huge, Danny Green-like impact on the team.

Who did What?

The Raptors went 4-0 since last week’s column, and all Powell did was average 24.5 points on 60/52/94 shooting splits coming off the bench. Sure, the competition was weak, but those numbers are sick.

Fred VanVleet returned from injury against Minnesota, and was unconscious, scoring 29 points on 16 shots.

OG Anunoby started the Oklahoma City and Washington games at the two-guard spot, and was excellent, averaging 18 points along with 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 assist and 3.5 steals. He’s since moved back to, ostensibly, his natural small forward position... and has been disappointing, scoring just six total points in the two games with a defensive rating of (gulp) 116.

Patrick McCaw was there, and he played, a lot, but writing about him is not good for my blood pressure, so we’ll leave it at that.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson continues to frustrate opponents with his hustle and rebounding, and continues to frustrate Raptors fans with his struggles finishing at the rim. I absolutely love the the way he gets after it out there, though, and that’s keeping him on the floor for 20 minutes a night even with a fully healthy Raptors squad.

Terence Davis was a bit up-and-down, with 23 points against Washington (mostly in garbage time), dropping a big goose egg in Minnesota, and then scoring 12 points — including a critical 5-0 run to start the fourth quarter — in Atlanta. I think that’s about what you’d expect from a rookie at this point in the season.

Stanley Johnson, Matt Thomas and Malcolm Miller all played a handful of low-impact minutes, and Oshae Brissett spent the week with the 905.

Wing Stat of the Week: .765

That’s the combined three-point shooting of Fred VanVleet’s against Minnesota (7-for-8) and Norman Powell against Atlanta (6-for-9). Back to back games of pure fire from those two.

Wing Highlight of the Week

It really couldn’t be anything other than this right? Here’s our guy Norm draining four straight threes in 2:05, with some all-time bench celebrations from Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam in between:

What are the Wings Saying?

Norman Powell, on getting in the zone:

Just playing the game, honestly. Once I hit a couple, I think [my teammates] were trying to get me a couple more, but I was just trying to execute the game plan. We needed more aggressiveness, being able to get to the rim or create something... It’s just taking the same shots you’ve been taking. I have confidence in my game, confidence in my shot, taking the shots when I get to my spots, and living with the results. I let the instincts take over and just play.

Norm again, on what happened after that run — when Atlanta got themselves back into the game:

Just felt like I needed to do a better job of controlling the game, especially with that unit out there, just slowing us down. They put the press on us, kinda sped us up, we really didn’t execute our press break and I think it’s on me to be able to control that unit and get us into the half court, to run the game down and get us good shots every time down.

I’m glad that Norm has the awareness to understand how much responsibility is on him in that situation. Hopefully, he’s learned something and will play better in that situation next time.

One more, from Fred VanVleet, following the Timberwolves game, spoke about how he managed himself on a minutes restriction compared to the last time he came back from an injury:

I think last time, I had the wrong approach with it, so just trying to be a bit smarter with it this time around, but I think playing with ease like that allowed me to not press, and just let the game come to me... I was fighting it too much, pushing it too much... I wanted to come back full force, I was thinking about it when I was out there, I was thinking about when I’m coming out, instead of just playing.

What’s Coach Saying?

Nick Nurse, on Powell’s hot shooting night:

He got a couple, obviously on his own, and we kinda mixed a few in there, we tried to run a couple things for him, but most of it was just some transition, some good reads from guys, some good screens guys set for him and then he pulled a couple isos on his own there when he was feeling it... the guys get rolling, we’ll sneak in a play call once we see a guy hit a couple or something.

Following OG Anunoby’s two good games (before his two bad games), Nurse spoke about how players respond to their roles:

There’s always a couple ways to look at this, and I think different players react differently, right, when sometimes you look over there and you know that you’re gonna not come out, and I’ve had those discussions with Norm a few times, Norm would be like, 2-for-8, and I’m like, Norm, I can’t take you out so could you make a couple here in the fourth quarter? And he would or whatever, and some guys, maybe when they know they’ve gotta play well or there’s somebody else over there that’s healthy that’s gonna come in and play, some guys react to that a little better. I can’t explain it. What I do like, is he [Anunoby] has had to guard smaller guys here the last couple nights, and he’s really got out there and worked on his man, but his hands have been great, he’s really been in the lane, off his man, tipping a bunch away to get us going.

What are the Rest of Us Saying?

You better believe we were talking about Norman Powell against the Hawks:

Wingman of the Week: Norman Powell

I don’t think there’s any debate on this one. I mean, did you see those numbers up there? Numbers aside, Norman Powell pretty much single-handedly rescued the Raptors from an embarrassing loss to the embarrassingly bad Hawks. Go back to that highlight clip and note the score — the Raptors were up three when it starts, and up 16 when it’s done. Quite a week for Norm, who’s now shooting 59/55/95 in his five games back from injury. Phew!