Anunoby start­ing to put it all to­gether

Rap­tors swing­man is sti­fling the stars

National Post (National Edition) - - SPORTS - RYAN WOLSTAT

There was a rea­son why head­ing into what even­tu­ally would become a cham­pi­onship-win­ning season that OG Anunoby, and not Pas­cal Si­akam, was the for­ward most in the Toronto Rap­tors or­ga­ni­za­tion were sky-high on.

Anunoby was get­ting fur­ther away from the dev­as­tat­ing knee in­jury suf­fered while at In­di­ana that al­lowed him to fall into Toronto’s lap at the NBA draft, in­stead of go­ing in the lot­tery where he be­longed. He had looked good at sum­mer league in Las Ve­gas and while Si­akam had also turned some heads with his off-season work, it was Anunoby who had the Toronto brain trust sali­vat­ing.

Si­akam broke out, be­com­ing the league’s most im­proved player and helped the club win its first ti­tle, while Anunoby had to suf­fer through a year that was aw­ful for him both on and off the court.

But now the swing­man is putting it all to­gether. He’s the de­fender we’ve seen all year — just about as good as it gets whether it’s stay­ing with shifty guards, or man­ning up against pow­er­house for­wards. But since the NBA restarted he’s also looked far more com­fort­able try­ing to ini­ti­ate his own of­fence. He’s at­tack­ing the bas­ket con­fi­dently and had hit all four of his three-point at­tempts ahead of Wed­nes­day’s game against Orlando.

Anunoby flashed a fancy spin move against An­thony Davis in one game and has shown more bounce off the drib­ble than ever be­fore.

“I mean it helps my con­fi­dence know­ing I can do it against any­one. It’s just about get­ting the reps and stay­ing with it and just be­ing con­fi­dent in my moves and be­ing pa­tient,” Anunoby ex­plained in his im­proved look.

“I know to help the team by get­ting to the rim, kick out, fin­ish, just be­ing ag­gres­sive and putting pres­sure on the rim and just make the next play, make the right play.”

Anunoby has certainly been do­ing a lot of that and if it con­tin­ues, an al­ready elite team sud­denly becomes an im­mense prob­lem for any op­po­nent try­ing to al­ready slow down Si­akam, six-time all­star Kyle Lowry, for­mer Al­lNBAer Marc Ga­sol and Fred VanVleet, among oth­ers.

But it’s at the other end where Anunoby stands out most.

“There’s a lot of stuff there,” Rap­tors head coach Nick Nurse said.

“He’s got a great ath­letic body, a pretty good mind­set to play it, plays hard, takes chal­lenges. There’s a lot to like at this stage at that end of the floor, for sure.”

And Anunoby turned 23 only last month, mean­ing he should only be scratch­ing the sur­face of his ceil­ing at this point.

“He’s young. He’s got a lot of years to play to get to that point,” Nurse said.

“I wouldn’t doubt him against any­body ex­cept for me,” VanVleet joked of who Anunoby could de­fend.

When he was tak­ing a more se­ri­ous tone, VanVleet mar­velled at the for­ward’s abil­ity to guard any po­si­tion on the floor, in­clud­ing cen­tres like Mi­ami star Bam Ade­bayo, who Anunoby did a nice job against on Mon­day.

“I mean, OG’s re­ally a five (centre) so it wasn’t that much of a mis­match,” VanVleet said.

“He was great for us to be able to go from guard­ing LeBron to Bam — and who­ever we play next, he’s our pri­mary de­fender. And I think the more he rel­ishes that role the more suc­cess­ful we’re go­ing to be. At that size and speed and strength, he can cause your (of­fence) a lot of prob­lems, so we need him to be our pri­mary stop­per and that means he’ll be guard­ing a long list of guys,” VanVleet said.

“I thought he did a great job of setting the tone early and it al­lows us to switch and fly around and keep our bigs out of foul trou­ble, for the most part, and keep guard­ing the rim. So, it just gives you that ver­sa­til­ity that we talk about all the time and hav­ing dif­fer­ent op­tions.”

The Rap­tors have to be lov­ing what they’re seeing from Anunoby right now. He’s tak­ing a leap right be­fore their eyes, pro­vid­ing flash­backs of a teenaged Tracy McGrady finding his way, or, more re­cently, of Si­akam as­cend­ing into an all-star.

There are no guar­an­tees Anunoby will reach the level of ei­ther of those play­ers, but if he gets any­where close the Rap­tors will be in great shape.

Postmedia News

THERE’S A LOT TO LIKE AT THIS STAGE AT THAT END (DE­FENCE).

ASHLEY LAN­DIS-POOL / GETTY IM­AGES

OG Anunoby of the Toronto Rap­tors chal­lenges Dun­can Robin­son of the Mi­ami Heat dur­ing NBA play Mon­day.

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