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Swingin’ Wings: Back from the Break

Matt Thomas on fire, OG d’ing it, TDII scoring in bunches: We had it all this week!

Swingin’ Wings Toronto Raptors wing rotation: Back from the All-Star Break, Matt Thomas 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 12-February 25

Welcome back! We took last week off since it was the All-Star Break, and bloggers deserve a break too. Now we’re back, rested, and ready to check in on Toronto’s cadre of wing players.

Funnily enough, not much has changed since our last edition... except, you know, the Raptors have lost a couple games, something that hadn’t done in a while the last time we were here. The Raptors have gone 2-1 since the break, beating Phoenix easily then Indiana even more easily, before losing the mighty Bucks. So: winning the games they’re supposed to, and giving themselves a chance against the very best opponents. Same old!

On the wings, it’s the same old too: OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet are starting each game. Norman Powell is still hurt. Terence Davis is still playing without fear. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is chasing rebounds like a madman and firing up the most convulsive layup attempts you’ll ever see.

The only difference we see is that in the absence of Patrick McCaw (flu), Matt Thomas has stepped up admirably.

Let’s get right to it then:

Who did What?

OG back? Anunoby is averaging 10 points and five boards since the break, and playing his usual stout defense — including an impressively solid performance against the reigning MVP. What’s also been great to see is that he’s using his strength to get the rim a little more, mixing up his inside-outside game.

Fred VanVleet is shooting 36% from the field, 28% from three and has taken one free throw in the last three games. Gonna go out on a limb and say the Raptors need a little more from their starting two-guard.

Terence Davis had two great games (11-for-21 from the field, 5-for-11 from three against Phoenix and Indiana) but struggled a bit with his shot in the first half against Milwaukee. I wonder if that game was a bit of an eye-opener for Davis; there was a playoff-like atmosphere he hadn’t really seen before. He settled in nicely in the second half though.

For his part, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson also looked a little overmatched against the Bucks, but overall, he’s playing his role well, averaging 9 and 5 in the past three games. I do still wonder why, exactly, he ever moves out of the dunker’s spot in the half court, but, I suppose you gotta keep the defense moving! That’s my best theory, anyway.

Matt Thomas played a garbage time minute against Phoenix and then lit up the Pacers and Bucks. Thomas’ speciality is the one Bucks weakness, but Nick Nurse needs to balance the impact of Thomas’ three-point shooting versus his liability on defense.

Stanley Johnson, Malcolm Miller, Oshae Brissett and Paul Watson all got some garbage time this week. Norman Powell and Patrick McCaw did not play.

Wing Stat of the Week: 67%

That’s what Matt Thomas shot from downtown. Sure, it’s not 99%. But 67% is nothing to sneer at! Thomas got up 12 threes against Indiana and Milwaukee, and made them pay for giving him any space at all.

And here we pause to consider something very important. Thomas is called the Iceman — it’s his Twitter handle and everything. But the way he catches fire, shouldn’t he be named after another Marvel super-hero, The Human Torch? (Didn’t Matt Ryan take the “Matty Ice” nickname anyway?) Who do I speak to to make this change happen!?

(Frankly I think I should be in charge of all super-hero related nicknames. I’m coming for you, Dwight Howard.)

Wing Highlight of the Week

OG dunking on Giannis Antetokounmpo? Yep, I’ll take that.

I know it’s not really “on” him; Giannis was just late to the play. But it gives us these photos, which speak for themselves:

What are the Wings Saying?

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, on how defense leads to offense:

You guys see us out there, the way we gel, sometimes we don’t even have to say anything, instinctively, we just vibe that way, and it’s beautiful and it feels good.

Looks good, too, especially Sunday against Indiana!

Fred VanVleet, on the team’s top priorities for the stretch run:

Health. Just getting healthy, and I think that’s about it. I think we’re in good shape, as far as seeding goes, just gotta continue to play good and go out there and try to win every game we can. But I think if we’re healthy and we’re feeling good towards the end I think we’ll feel good about ourselves.

VanVleet, on the Raptors going 18-for-52 for three against the Bucks:

They give us those shots. Sometimes you make ‘em, sometimes you don’t.


What’s Coach Saying?

Nick Nurse on the wings and bench play in the Bucks game:

I had some thoughts, even before I put Serge back in, of going at OG-Pascal 4-5. I thought they had a lineup out there we could do it. Loved the way Terence played in the second half, loved the way Matt played in the first half. Again, you’re gonna probably get shots and those guys were playing good. I mean they were all those guys, Matt, Terence, Chris, Rondae, all were very good.

Nick Nurse on Terence Davis’ play against the Suns:

He was good, I thought, again, he — the pace we were playing at was opening up the floor, and the thing that I really liked is we were throwing it ahead, and he was on the receiving end of a couple of those throw-aheads from the backcourt and he just, you know, he can score man, all he needs is a little space... he kept the scoreboard moving pretty good.

Wingman of the Week: OG Anunoby

I’m so happy to see OG Anunoby playing consistently solid basketball out there, after a solid month of up-and-down performances. He didn’t have as flashy a moment as Matt Thomas had against the Bucks or score as much as TDII did against the Pacers and Suns, but he provided exactly what the Raptors need from him over this stretch: Excellent D, scoring when the ball comes to him, grabbing key rebounds. And did you see that steal and save he got out of the press in the final minutes against Milwaukee? Heck of play.

Honestly, I’d say OG had the best game of any starter against the Bucks until Siakam came on a bit late. If he can keep it up when Marc Gasol comes back I imagine Gasol’s playmaking will unlock even more for OG on the offensive end, and I can’t wait to see it!