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Swingin’ Wings: Who’s even a wing anymore, anyway?

Everybody’s playing out of position these days, and Toronto’s wings are no different.

Swingin’ Wings Toronto Raptors wing rotation: Who’s even a wing anymore, anyway? OG Anunoby Photo by Vaughn Ridley/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.

February 5-February 11

All season long this column has been confronted with the Raptors’ non-traditional play when it comes to positions. Fred VanVleet, a point guard, was starting at the shooting guard spot, after all.

Now it’s only getting weirder, since Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is now a centre!

Positional flexibility may have rendered this column kinda silly, but it’s been pretty cool to watch. Much in the same way that VanVleet has excelled as an off-ball shooter, Rondae was awesome in his start at the five, posting a season-high 21 points and holding the much bigger Karl-Anthony Towns to just two field goals in the paint.

This entire Raptors season has defied expectations anyway, so why should we be beholden to players playing their expected positions?

Who did What?

The Raptors went 4-0 last week, and Fred VanVleet started all four games, one of them at PG for the injured Kyle Lowry. All he did was average 18.8 points, 6.8 assists and 2.5 boards with 45/39/100 shooting splits, while knocking down his usual timely buckets.

Terence Davis started in VanVleet’s spot for that Brooklyn game; he had 20 points and eight boards. Overall he averaged 12 and five for the week Including 52% shooting from downtown on 5.8 attempts per game), and forced the broadcast to make approximately 8,356 subtle (and so many more not-so-subtle) references to the (completely irrelevant!) Rising Stars game.

When he wasn’t playing centre, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was kind of erratic this week — a consequence, no doubt, of shaking off injury rust.

You know who wasn’t bad this week? Patrick McCaw! Sure, he was mostly invisible. But, he wasn’t completely exposed on D and he only had one total turnover. Going from “disaster” to “completely invisible” is a definite improvement.

Matt Thomas came in like the cavalry against Brooklyn, what with Lowry on the bench and Fred VanVleet in foul trouble. He threw in a career-highs in points (15) and steals (3) and tied career-highs in rebounds (6) and shots (9).

Speaking of career highs, how about OG Anunoby? He looked like he broke out of his scoring slump against Indiana last Friday, but then he really broke out of it against Minnesota, with 25 points on 13 shots. OG did struggle offensively in the other two games — five total points — but he brought his usual undeniable effort on defense.

Oshae Brisset played about eight energetic minutes in Brooklyn. Stanley Johnson and Malcolm Miller didn’t play, and neither did the injured Norman Powell.

Wing Stat of the Week: 8

That’s how many shots Patrick McCaw took last week. That’s not really a big deal — you don’t really want McCaw shooting too much, after all. But he played 82 minutes! Only two shots per game in 2 minutes a night? On a team that took 89.5 shots per game!?

Marc Gasol is so totally jealous right now.

Wing Highlight of the Week

Clearly the highlight of the week is the team all wearing their Serge Ibaka-gifted scarfs. But if we must limit it to on-court action, well, we already discussed these two guys playing out of position, so why not feature Fred VanVleet and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson hooking up for the dunk off the no-look pass?

What are the Wings Saying?

OG Anunoby, on helping Rondae Hollis-Jefferson guard Towns:

We just tried to play hard, help rebound, just be attentive to Towns when he rolled to the basket, just helping each other out.

Earlier in the week OG spoke about he approaches guarding bigs himself, specifically Domantas Sabonis in this case:

Just forcing them out, and then in pick-and-roll, being able to switch, on to a guard, and kinda mess up their play.

(I know, it’s not much. But I need to get some OG quotes in here! The man barely speaks!)

As for Rondae, here’s what he likes about the challenge of guarding Towns:

The battle! The battle in itself, you know, holding your own ground, you know I’m pretty strong but he’s got what, five inches on me, four inches on me, 30 sounds or so... so it’s definitely a battle, but it’s about being mentally tough, having that resiliency, coming from where I come from, I was born with [that], I inherited it so — for those that don’t know I’m from Chester, PA, thank you — and I just love a challenge at the end of the day.

What’s Coach Saying?

Nick Nurse on OG’s effort guarding bigs against Indiana:

I thought he played great in the second half, he was really physical, he was guarding, we had to put him on Sabonis some, and he was forcing catches out further away from the post, and he was working out there.

And on OG not playing in the fourth quarter of that same Indiana game:

I just felt like we needed some spacing. And it’s not like he’s not a great shooter, but I think the threat of Terence out there tonight — a lot of times it’s Norm — the threat of Terence just giving Pascal and Serge and Kyle a little more room to operate in the paint was the reason. But I thought OG played really hard in the second half, and I just about put him in because I thought his defense was worthy of going back in but the offensive spacing was really what I was concerned about tonight.

Remember that OG didn’t score in that game. You might think that’d be a time for Nick Nurse to bring out one of his caustic assessments of a player, as he’s done a few times this season — but here, nothing but praise (he even went on to blame himself for not getting OG the ball in good positions to score). The lesson, then? Bust your ass on D and it makes up for everything else!

Wingman of the Week: OG Anunoby

Hey, if it’s good enough for coach, it’s good enough for us! Yes, the zero-point game and the five-point game stand out on the box score, and not in a good way. But you can’t overlook that defensive effort. OG Anunoby guarded every position at times last week, and guarded extremely well. Most notably, of course, was his locking up Caris LeVert on the final play against Brooklyn. And then he capped it off with a career high 25-point game Definitely worthy of Wingman of the Week in my book!