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Swingin’ Wings: A difficult week leads to inconsistent performances

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Wing play was all over the map the past four games, but it’s not hard to understand why.

Swingin’ Wings Toronto Raptors wing rotation: A difficult week leads to inconsistent performances, Fred VanVleet Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

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 22-28

The Raptors somehow managed to play four games in the past week, but the first two — wins against Philadelphia and New York — feel like they took place in another lifetime. The other two — wins against San Antonio and Atlanta — remain, like everything else NBA-related since Sunday morning, difficult to judge.

On the surface, the Raptors objectively had a good week, going 4-0. The wings? Well, no one really strung together four great games, and who could blame them, after Sunday’s events. The wing core also had two injuries, and that threw the rotations off as well.

So we’ll forgive the group for the up-and-down week, and hope that the healing begins and normalcy returns in time.

Who did What?

More than any other current Raptor, Norman Powell seems to have modeled his game the most on Kobe Bryant’s. Powell, a California native, watched Bryant growing up and even attended Bryant’s Mamba camp this past summer. So, it is understandable that Powell has struggled the past two games, posting just seven and six points (the first time he’s had back-to-back single digit scoring games since November 6).

OG Anunoby continues to hang on to the Norman Powell Inconsitency Belt; he was scoreless and all-around awful against Philly, played solid ball against New York and San Antonio, but was pretty invisible against Atlanta.

Patrick McCaw broke his nose just 17 seconds into the Philly game, and has sat out since.

Fred VanVleet continues to start out of position at the two guard, but with McCaw out of the line-up, Nick Nurse has staggered VanVleet and Lowry more, which, ultimately, is for the best. Yes, off-the-ball VanVleet is probably the best VanVleet, but the team needs another point guard, and Terence Davis isn’t quite there yet.

Speaking of whom, Davis had kind of a subpar week, by his standards, scoring in double-digits just once — in the blowout against Atlanta last night. He remains an active contributor with his rebounding, though, which is nice to see, and his turnover numbers remain low, always a bonus with a rookie.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson didn’t play much against Philly, had a modest night against New York, and then hurt his ankle in San Antonio. I’ll give this week an “incomplete” for him.

Matt Thomas played a few first half minutes yesterday, but he (along with Malcolm Miller and Stanley Johnson) was mostly relegated to garbage time this week.

Wing Stat of the Week: 7

That’s how many free throws OG Anunoby has attempted, not in the last week, but in the last month. Seriously, since December 28th Anunoby has been to the line just seven times.

Guess how many players are averaging more than 27 minutes, but fewer than .5 free throw attempts per game, since December 28?

One. It’s OG.

Wing Highlight of the Week

This isn’t a flashy one, but I loved this heads-up play from Norman Powell that led to a Kyle Lowry three-pointer:

(Did Powell intentionally whack that ball straight to Lowry... or did he just randomly whack it to keep it away from Mitchell Robinson? I’m going with the former!)

What are the Wings Saying?

Fred VanVleet, following the win in New York, on playing clutch minutes :

It’s fun, it’s no pressure [for us]. For young teams or teams trying to find a way, it can get tight there at the end, but that’s where we kind of relish it a little bit, even in defeat, it’s not always gonna go the way it went tonight, but I think just stepping up to the task and staying level-headed helps you make good decisions at the end.

VanVleet on having a group that’s played together in clutch moments:

Familiarity is very underrated, and chemistry, and that core group has been playing with each other for a few years now, and obviously played together in really big moments, so it goes from having to explain every single thing to kinda that second sense where we know where each is going to be. And then for the times we don’t, we just talk through it and figure out it.

Norman Powell, following the Philly win, on how defense leads the way:

We were a step slow, to start the game, reacting to what they were doing instead of being the ones dictating where they go, being physical on the defensive end and we made it a point to put a little more into the game and we were able to do it in the second half, and that really helped us feel our flow on the offensive end.

What’s Coach Saying?

Nick Nurse on what he’s seeing from OG Anunoby:

I see, still, a fairly young guy. There’s some nights where he’s just fantastic. Maybe three or four games ago, just fantastic numbers across the board, and taking it to the rim, and dunking, and shooting threes and everything. And then the ball doesn’t find him very much tonight. And I’ve got an idea about getting him a few more touches and I’ve gotta get that to the court... because we need him, he’s a really good defender at his size and he can shoot. I think he needs more reps and he’s not going to get any better taking three shots a night. He needs some more chances to go out there and develop his game, and that’s gotta be on me a little bit to get that to the floor.

Nick Nurse, on the source of Fred VanVleet’s hot shooting since coming back from injury:

Yep, it’s all me.

Wingman of the Week: Fred VanVleet

I’ve been hesitant to give this to Fred VanVleet all season, because, as noted above, even thought he’s starting at the two-guard spot, he’s out of position and spends much of his time at point guard. But, he had a great week, and everyone else was all over the map, sooo.... Congrats Freddy!

For the record VanVleet averaged 17.5 points, 6.8 abounds and 1.8 steals over the four games. His field goal percentage is dragged down by his continued struggles at the rim, but his three-point shooting remains excellent: 15-for-31 on the week.