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Swingin’ Wings: Powell and Anunoby step up, as they should

When the going gets tough, you expect the players on top of the depth chart to step up. They did.

Swingin’ Wings Toronto Raptors wing rotation: Norman Powell and OG Anunoby step up Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via 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 26-March 3

Thank goodness for the Phoenix Suns! The terrible Suns were the only thing that kept the last week from being a total disaster for the Raptors.

For this column, of course, the Raptors’ record isn’t the main focus: It’s how their wing players played and contributed. With injuries still hampering the roster, there were definite opportunities — but they typically involved the wings playing out of position, often at centre.

And you know what: They did just fine. OG Anunoby guarded Nikola Jokic and Deandre Ayton! So did Rondae Hollis-Jefferson! Sure, Jokic got a triple-double and the Nuggets won, but that could have gone a lot worse!

Let’s run down every player’s contribution from the 1-2 week.

Who did What?

OG Anunoby had a career day against the Nuggets (32 points, seven boards, three assists, seven steals). In other two? Also pretty damn good! We’ll be talking more about OG later, don’t you worry.

Finally back from injury, Norman Powell amazingly picked up right where he left off, averaging 24 points and three boards on 49/30/79 shooting splits. For a guy that couldn’t put two solid straight games together last season to a guy who plays well for weeks, gets injured and sits for weeks, and then comes right back and continues to play well? Norm is defying all odds and expectations and I love to see it. Dude even started all three games with Fred VanVleet hurt!

Patrick McCaw also started in one game, and he was... OK in that one. He had a couple of boneheaded turnovers, and gave up a few more signature McCaw blow-bys. But he was also fairly aggressive with the ball and he’s usually somewhat effective when that happens.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson started two games at centre, essentially, and while he held his own, he obviously didn’t show enough for Nick Nurse to trust him completely and start him a third game in a row. There’s also the small matter of the horrible foul and horrible post-up late in the Charlotte game. Not Rondae’s best week.

Speaking “not best weeks,” Terence Davis, my man, where'd you go? Just 11 total points on four total field goal makes, in 13 minutes per game. You’re not helping my “Terence Davis should get all of Patrick McCaw’s minutes” case!

Matt Thomas played in every game, but only connected on one field goal. The secret might be out on him, as teams load up on the three point line to keep him locked down.

Fred VanVleet didn’t play due to injury. Malcom Miller and Stanley Johnson got a minute of garbage time against Denver.

Wing Stat of the Week: 15

That’s how many steals OG Anunoby had across all three games. An Alvin Robertson-esque performance!

Wing Highlight of the Week

Let’s keep on those OG Anunoby steals. I couldn’t pick just one, so how about all seven of the against Denver?

What are the Wings Saying?

OG Anunoby, following his big defensive night against the Nuggets:

We’re all just trying to be aggressive, pressure the ball, and trying to make plays on the ball.

Well, that sure seemed to work!

OG again, specifically on his defensive approach against a big like Jokic:

Just make him catch it far out, and try to deny the ball on the pass... could’ve done better. They were getting a lot of cuts, he was scoring. He’s a really good passer, he can shoot, and he’s strong.

Jokic is all of those things, but OG still did a heck of a job.

What’s Coach Saying?

Nick Nurse, on Patrick McCaw bouncing back to contribute against the Suns:

I would say quite simply, the answer is his mental approach. Whatever the reason that he wasn’t quite engaged here lately, or was trying to ease into games, whatever it was, wasn’t working. And you could see from the second he hit the floor tonight, he was done with that. I think the first possession he blocked a shot, got a rebound, got two or three offensive rebounds on the same play, he was all over the place. So, obviously he had his mind right going in there with the intensity that he needed to play at... I think everybody needs to play with intensity when they hit the floor, but especially young guys and bench guys. They really have to bring a level of jacked up energy when they come in and you could see that with him tonight.

I’m still not buying it! But McCaw did bring the energy against the Suns, and given that the team wasn’t getting much from Davis and Thomas, his 33 minutes were appropriate.

Wingman of the Week: OG Anunoby

I think this is three weeks in a row I’ve given this to OG Anunoby, but man, how can you argue? Sure, Norman Powell scored more points, but given all of the other things Anunoby did, this including guarding out of position, I don’t really think there’s an argument. And let’s not discount the scoring either: OG has double-figures in four of the last five games.