The biggest revelation for the Toronto Raptors so far in the 2017-18 season has to be OG Anunoby. Honestly, this young man is the real deal. If you ask Warriors superstar Kevin Durant, he’d agree with you.
During a YouTube video posted on his personal account last week, Durant mentioned Anunoby as one of the rookies that have caught his attention in the early part of the season.
“I like OG Anunoby from Toronto,” he said.
He plays hard, he can shoot it, he rebounds well. He’s gonna be really good in the future.”
Really good in the future? C’mon Durant. How about really good already?
While his traditional offensive numbers, particularly his 6.7 points and 2 rebounds per game, don’t jump off the page at you, what does is Anunoby’s captivating athleticism and length. Both of those physical attributes have allowed the tantalizing forward to already become a well-above-average NBA defender, one that can guard positions 1 through 4. Anunoby’s defensive prowess is welcomed with open arms by a Raptors organization that’s struggled to find stability at the small forward position for well over a decade now. Who remembers the likes of Landry Fields, Jamario Moon, and Joey Graham? How about Jorge Garbajosa? I sure do.
How many teams could say their best defender just finished off his teenage years? It’s hard to fathom that at 20-years-old, Anunoby is already Toronto’s primary defensive stopper. He’s listed at 6’8” and has an impressive 7’2” wingspan, so it’s no secret as to why the former Hoosier gives his matchup fits regularly. Oh, and did I mention he’s still not 100 percent physically after tearing his ACL last January?
In his first 19 games, the Raps 2017 first round pick has already been tasked with guarding a variety of crafty all-stars, including James Harden, Anthony Davis, Al Horford, and Bradley Beal. That shows just how much head coach Dwane Casey believes in his abilities, but more importantly, how much he trusts him to shut down an opponent’s best player in the crucial moments of a game. Normally it takes more than a quarter of a season for a rookie to gain the trust of his coaching staff the way Anunoby has.
After Norman Powell suffered a right hip pointer against the Boston Celtics back on November 12, Anunoby was entrusted with starting small forward duties. In the seven games since Powell’s injury, he’s fit in well by providing strong play on both ends. He’s also been surprisingly effective on offence. His 115.5 offensive rating ranks 16th in the Association during that span, which proves how efficient he’s been at creating offence for his team with limited opportunities. If you include Anunoby’s 12 games coming off the bench, he ranks 10th league-wide in offensive rating (113.5). And if that wasn’t enough to convince you the kid’s got game – and an efficient one at that – his true shooting percentage of 62 should. Considering he hasn’t quite added a consistent jumper to his repertoire, these numbers so far should be very, very encouraging for members of Raptors nation and the team’s brass. Additionally, even if Anunoby isn’t quite the offensive weapon that Powell is, the starting unit already has enough scoring punch in Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka to stay afloat; what that unit needs most is defensive improvement.
Casey and his assistants are undoubtedly thrilled with the Missouri native’s play to start his NBA career. Something else they’re certainly pleased with is how smooth Powell’s return to the bench unit has been so far.
Powell has shot 50 percent or better and scored in double-figures off the bench in the three games since returning from injury. His positive impact on the reserves has already been felt, especially in the absence of Delon Wright. Not only does Powell play his role within the offence to a tee, but he’s able to bail out the group if need be by creating shot opportunities off the dribble. Having a player of his calibre who’s willing to adjust his role – and play fewer minutes – for the betterment of the team speaks to the maturity and character of the 2015 second-rounder.
Given Anunoby’s four-inch height advantage over Powell (6’4”) – which aids him far more when it comes to defending swingmen – expect Casey to continue rolling the former out as a member of the starting five. After all, he’s the clear-cut choice to start at the position in the years to come. That’s not a knock on Powell by the way, but rather a testament to Anunoby’s enticing potential.
Raptors president Masai Ujiri has had many successes as an NBA executive over the years. Just in his tenure with Toronto, he’s traded away Andrea Bargnani, drafted Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl, and re-signed all-star level players in DeRozan and Lowry.
Drafting Anunoby may end up being Ujiri’s greatest success yet.