ANUNOBY MAKES RAPTORS MORE DANGEROUS
Forward’s improved offensive play makes top-notch defender a true dual threat
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 Anunoby going in the lottery where he belonged. He 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 helping the club win its first title, while Anunoby suffered through an awful year 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 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.
“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 said.
“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 all-star Kyle Lowry, former all-NBAer Marc Gasol and
Fred VanVleet, among others.
But it’s at the other end where Anunoby most stands out.
“There’s a lot of stuff there,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse.
“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 only turned 23 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. He’s taking a leap right before their eyes, providing flashbacks of a teenage 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 those players, but if he gets anywhere close, the Raptors will be in great shape.
Toronto swingman OG Anunoby, centre, has added to his stellar defensive game by initiating his own offence.