Rook could pick up starters’ min­utes

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - SPORTS - MIKE GAN­TER mike.gan­ter@sun­media.ca

HOUS­TON — OG Anunoby isn’t the type to share his thoughts, in­ner or gen­eral, with just any­one.

His me­dia scrums have be­come al­most must-see spec­ta­cles as earnest re­porters try to en­gage the Rap­tors very lik­able rookie in con­ver­sa­tion only to be stymied by one and two-word an­swers. It’s com­i­cal at times as long as you don’t hap­pen to be the one try­ing to build a full-length fea­ture around a bunch of yes and no re­sponses.

But, even be­fore Norm Pow­ell went down with a hip pointer po­ten­tially open­ing up a tem­po­rary spot in the start­ing five that, bar­ring a sud­den change of heart, looks like it will re­sult in ex­tended run for the young Anunoby along­side the likes of DeRozan and Lowry at least for one more game, there was plenty of in­ter­est in the Rap­tors first over­all pick of the 2017 draft.

And now that in­ter­est is likely to dou­ble as the young man is thrust into a big­ger role per­haps as early as Tues­day when the Rap­tors take on the Western Con­fer­ence­lead­ing Hous­ton Rock­ets.

Anunoby isn’t the only op­tion avail­able to Casey to fill Pow­ell’s min­utes, but he does ap­pear to be the likely can­di­date.

Like Pow­ell, Anunoby is a very ca­pa­ble de­fender, a will­ing driver and a threat from three-point range. He brings a phys­i­cal pres­ence to that start­ing five that al­ready has a good dose of that in Jonas Valan­ci­u­nas and Serge Ibaka.

“The young man has been play­ing well de­fen­sively,” Rap­tors head coach Dwane Casey said fol­low­ing prac­tice Mon­day in Hous­ton. “Of­fen­sively, he’s mak­ing the right reads, good cuts. He had one cut out that got a three-ball for Kyle in the cor­ner the other night. With­out him read­ing that sit­u­a­tion and cut­ting out to cre­ate space, it would have been a crowded sit­u­a­tion. His aware­ness, his read­ing of sit­u­a­tions has been really, really good. He’s grow­ing. Is he mak­ing mis­takes? Yes. He missed a cou­ple of switches. They’re all hard. That’s what this year is all about, those guys grow­ing up and de­vel­op­ing an NBA game. That’s what he’s do­ing right be­fore our eyes. He was play­ing well (Sun­day) night.”

Casey wasn’t will­ing to cede Pow­ell’s min­utes (as­sum­ing Pow­ell doesn’t play and while he was much im­proved from a day ear­lier he did not prac­tice which is al­ways the best in­di­ca­tion of when a player will re­turn) to Anunoby but he’s a good bet.

C.J. Miles, an­other op­tion Casey could go with in the start­ing five, says Anunoby just seems to fit well with that start­ing group.

“I think the thing that helps is his strengths don’t take away from their strengths,” Miles said of An­noby with the No. 1’s. “He’s good off the ball. He makes plays and uses his ath­leti­cism and length as a big part of the plays he does make — his cut­ting and get­ting his hands on de­flec­tions and get­ting out and run­ning. He’s able to be even more of a threat in that sit­u­a­tion be­cause they have to go help but, I don’t want to say for­get about him, but de­fences ro­tate away from him and he’s able to play within space and pick and choose.”

The key for Anunoby is go­ing to be find­ing a bal­ance be­tween be­ing a floor spacer for the likes of Lowry and DeRozan and an of­fen­sive op­tion when teams in­vari­ably put the clamps down on his two all­star team­mates.

Pow­ell, who got a taste of play­ing along­side those two in the play­offs both last year and the year be­fore strug­gled early on in the sea­son find­ing that bal­ance. For a time he all but aban­doned his drive game in the mis­taken be­lief that he was do­ing the right thing by sac­ri­fic­ing that in or­der to get the ball in the hands of his team­mates more.

Even­tu­ally Pow­ell saw the er­ror in that think­ing and re­turned to form.

The ex­pec­ta­tion is Anunoby will strug­gle a lit­tle with this ini­tially as well.

Early on in the Bos­ton game he did make a beau­ti­ful base­line cut and took an on-time feed from Lowry for a mon­ster slam dunk. That was very en­cour­ag­ing given both how ef­fec­tive it was and how quick he was to re­al­ize his own of­fen­sive con­tri­bu­tions are still nec­es­sary when he plays with the starters.

Anunoby doesn’t forsee any prob­lems if he does end up play­ing big min­utes with the starters. He doesn’t see him­self chang­ing any.

“Not really. Still play­ing hard, try­ing to make plays at both ends to help the team. Same,” he said.

TORONTO SUN FILES

Toronto’s OG Anunoby dunks dur­ing a game last month.

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