When the Raptors selected OG Anunoby with the 23rd overall pick, it was nothing short of an absolute steal. Anunoby, was slotted to go somewhere in the lottery, to the late teens, but an ACL injury dropped his draft stock significantly. The timeline of his arrival into his rookie season was unknown, some reports said December while others said January/February. It’s crazy to think that fourteen games into the season and he’s has played all fourteen games.
His recovery from ACL surgery has been amazing. As someone who tore their ACL this year, I somewhat know what kind of process he’s going through, what recovery looks like, and how much work goes into rehabbing from ACL surgery. To recover at the speed he did and play to the level/comfort he’s playing at is absolutely crazy to me.
Anunoby played 50 games for Indiana University, only half the season in his sophomore year. In that time, he quickly earned the reputation of a solid defender. He possessed the ability to guard multiple positions, anything from quick guards, to undersized fours, Anunoby had them covered. It was obvious from his strength and size, that his frame was going to make him a plus defender at the NBA level. So far this opinion hasn’t changed, he’s been tasked at times to guard the opposing team’s best player. When he started against the Rockets this past week, he was guarding arguably the best scorer in the league in, James Harden and showed he had no problem guarding the quicker/crafty Harden.
With defense being one of his main strengths, it was on the offensive end his efficiency was an area of weakness. With his size and quick first step, he was able to get to the basket and finish with ease. From outside, his poor shooting mechanics hindered his ability to help space the floor for the team, or be any real threat being as a ball handler. From the NCAA three point line, Anunoby shot 31% in his sophomore year, a massive dip from the 44% he shot from three in his freshman season. His poor shooting from deep, combined with his 52% from the free throw line in his two years in college, made him nearly a non threat on the offensive end.
It wasn’t just in the midrange that he struggled but shots that he did take in college from the NBA three distance looked flat. As the distance grew, the mechanics got worse. Bringing into question, “just how much of a project was Anunoby’s shot?” The Raptors coaching staff have recently had a great track record of improving young shooters mechanics in a short amount of time. Norman Powell wasn’t known as a good shooter coming out of UCLA, but he’s at the level from three that he’s at least now a capable NBA three point shooter and all of this happened in less than a full season in the league. Other young players like Pascal Siakam, even Delon Wright to a certain extent, have improved their jump shots early on in the Raptors organization.
I know it’s still early into Anunoby’s career, but it looks like he has already taken strides in becoming a much better shooter from deep. So far this season, he’s taken thirty-six shots from deep, converting 41% of them. Yes, this is a small sample but the sample is large enough to conclude his shot isn’t a complete disaster like some thought it would be. I have to admit, from what I watched of Anunoby in college, I was very skeptical of what his shot would look like in his rookie season. I have been silenced. Not only do his mechanics look much improved but he’s even hitting much more difficult shots from deep. Most of the catch and shoot threes he made in college, he was perfectly set and had a ton of space to take the shot. Now, he’s hitting some threes semi-contested and even gathering himself to hit threes off bad passes that take him out of his natural shooting motion.
His shooting mechanics are still a work in progress. There still needs to be work done on his form from the line and teams will soon start playing him for his improved three point shooting, so hitting tougher shots will become more important as the season moves on. The improvements we’ve seen already are very impressive, it will be interesting to see what Anunoby’s progression in his offensive game looks like at game eighty-two.
There’s still no doubt that he can get to the rim and finish and play some really stellar defense at times, but the adjustments he’s already made to his game this early into his NBA career is a great sign. Most thought that at this point of the season that Anunoby would just be starting to work his way back from injury, and finding his way in the Raptors rotation. Instead Anunoby is starting to look like he could be one of the better players in this years draft class, and is contributing in a major way to the Raptors early season success.