With a permanent look of indifference spread across his face, it’s tough to figure out whether or not OG Anunoby is happy to be here. A 23rd overall selection after a devastating knee injury ended his college career early, you can’t blame him for being all-business, even on draft day.
In interviews he is curt, sometimes to the point of seeming rude and has no time for questions with obvious answers. OG Anunoby is here to play basketball, and the Raptors are already reaping the rewards. The 6-foot-8 20-year-old out of Indiana has come a long way from his three-star recruiting status in high school. His trajectory towards a top-ten pick was well on it’s way before tearing his ACL in January, and the Raptors feel downright blessed to have gotten him at the position they did. Dwayne Casey said the Raptors “got lucky” to get him where they did, and Masai Ujiri added “We’re excited. We’re super excited and we feel we got lucky to get a player like that where we got him.”
While the Raptors’ front office may feel lucky, Anunoby is relying on his hard work and rehabilitation to make an impact this season. In his first taste of preseason action, he dished out two assists on his first two touches and showed aggressiveness attacking the rim. Despite his shooting woes (1-5) it was a bonus to even see him on the court. He is, after all a “project,” albeit one that can contribute, so what are his expectations heading into the season?
With a ceiling of “bigger Kawhi”, Anunoby has all the natural talent of an elite defender in the NBA. He’s quick on his feet given his size and has the ability to switch onto anyone. That same quickness and fast twitch muscles make him near-impossible to shoot over. He’s bouncy on his feet and eager to contain the threat of a pass or shot at any moment.
His size allows him to cover most fours on the interior or exterior and his range makes him a threat to put up some gaudy defensive stats. He finished with 2.2 steals and 2.2 blocks per 40 minutes in college and while those numbers are likely to take a hit in limited NBA action, the potential to make a difference is apparent immediately.
We haven’t seen him find his range yet in the preseason, but his willingness to take open looks is half the battle. He’s a 36.5% career shooter form beyond the arc in college and Casey will need similar numbers from Anunoby if he wants to fit into the Raptors’ new system of bombs away. He’s at his best placing the floor as a four, but that means his shot will need to drop in order to be respected. He put up good catch and shoot numbers at Indiana (1.32 pp) and that skill will go a long way as the Raptors try to create more space for their shooters this season.
While OG is hopefully a long-term project that terrorizes the Eastern Conference for years to come, he’s also ready to go right now. At 20 years old he has enough experience and maturity (just see how he eats up the press) to fit into the demands of the NBA. His size is already above average and his willingness to learn is evident from his growth as a high school player to college star.
Wait…didn’t we just list this as a strength? Yes, but keep in mind that “developing” also implies a player has not reached an area of satisfaction just yet. Anunoby is a streaky shooter and while we highlighted his career 36.5% clip from deep, keep in mind that number is a reflection of his average dropping from 45% as a rookie to 31% as a sophomore in college. He struggles from the line (52.2% in college) and will always have trouble getting his shot off without space. These stats are likely to improve with practice and adjustment to the NBA, but any hopes of him being a threat to shoot at will should be left at the door.
Onunoby is capable with the ball in his hands, but given all that is expected of him on the defensive end of the floor it comes as little surprise that he needs some work polishing his offensive game. He rarely if ever takes a pull up jumper (just 5 in 50 college games) and looks clunky around the rim against larger opponents. His best case scenario is to attack the basket against smaller defenders, or use the open space his teammates make for him to knock down some shots.
Is it fair to label Anunoby injury-prone? No, but it is fair to worry. The NBA has a long list of players (superstars included) whose careers were changed dramatically by serious injuries like ACL tears. Considering Anunoby derives so much of his skill from his leaping ability and lateral movement, his injury will need to be closely monitored and that means his development will be (and should be!) brought along slowly.
Listed behind CJ Miles (or maybe Norman Powell) on the depth chart at SF, Anunoby is capable (and likely) to play the four as well. He’ll be expected to make an immediate impact on a team that will pride itself on depth. The Raptors are in a unique situation where they get to develop their young talent while still competing for a deep playoff run. If Anunoby can continue to improve on the offensive end while providing above-average defense the Raptors will continue to reap the rewards from their savvy draft pick.