ANUNOBY MAKES RAP­TORS MORE DAN­GER­OUS

For­ward’s im­proved of­fen­sive play makes top-notch de­fender a true dual threat

Ottawa Citizen - - 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 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.

ASHLEY LAN­DIS-POOL/GETTY IM­AGES

Toronto swing­man OG Anunoby, centre, has added to his stel­lar de­fen­sive game by ini­ti­at­ing his own of­fence.

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