When I set out to try to forecast the next season for the Raptors second year wingman OG Anunoby, the first task I realized I had to tackle was qualifying who OG Anunoby has already shown himself to be in the NBA. With many players, this is an easy question to ask, you look at where they fit in their role, how they perform what’s asked of them, and where they can and should improve, and for young players the opportunities are often presented in ways that lay those paths out simply.
When you take a young guy on a good team though, who simply slots into an unassuming role the way OG did last season, it complicates the question of who he is as a player. After all, it could hardly be said that Anunoby made the Raptors good, they won 59 games last year after 51 the year before, and had growth up and down the roster that contributed to that improvement. once he was made a starter he had the smallest offensive role of the group, often relegated to catching defenses asleep on cuts to get easy baskets or knocking down three-point shots when left open due to the defense over-committing to one of his teammates. His main role was to often guard the best offensive player on the opposing team, something he embraced and excelled at often during the season, including a marquee performance in his first start when he was tasked with guarding James Harden late in the game as the Raptors took a close win over the Houston Rockets.
To take a step further back, though, there’s yet another question of who Anunoby was supposed to be last season. After all, the jump shot he showed wasn’t supposed to be there at that level this young, that was supposed to be a project that would take several years to develop for him. More than that though, he wasn’t supposed to be healthy. The ACL injury that removed most of his sophomore season at Indiana was predicted to keep him out until January, and prevented him from participating in Summer League and limited his participation in the Raptors training camp. That he was available to play to start the season is a testament to how hard he worked to get back on the floor. Still, as a rookie coming off a shortened college season and without the preparation for the NBA normally provided through those offseason and preseason activities, it would’ve been understandable had he taken time to adjust to the speed of the game.
The truth with OG is that he looks the part through one NBA season of a rare talent. There has been talk of him developing into a star later in his career, but that might not be in the cards. He still has struggles handling the ball and creating his own shot, but he does enough other things that he might not need that. What he provides to a team is the ability to play flawed players around him, because his game is an easy fit within a roster. He embraces defensive assignments, makes the easy plays on offense and shows an awareness of his own game that allows him to play within his limitations.
Anunoby’s role this season seems unclear going into training camp. Will he retain his starting spot, with the additions of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, or join the bench mob? It’s hard to say for sure, but the fit is visible either way, and I wouldn’t expect a hard adjustment for him with either role. At the same time, he’ll have the opportunity for at least one season to work with those two players in practice and watch how they hone their craft, and learn from them. If Anunoby is to crack the door on the possibility of star potential as his career progresses, this could be a key season in that development.
Either way, for 2018-19, don’t expect OG’s box score to jump out at you. The Raptors have too many weapons for him to be asked to play that kind of role, and he doesn’t seem suited for that at this point in his career either. His defense will be important, as will his ability to punish an inattentive defense, but equally important will be the fact that he remains engaged on the court even when not asked to do more on offense, he keeps that defensive awareness. He will likely be asked to often take those tough defensive assignments again, to help Kawhi Leonard not carry too much of the load and to help him preserve energy for the offensive end at times. What you should expect is that the Raptors will win his minutes wherever they come, because that’s what he brought to the team a season ago, and it’s easily foreseeable that he finds a way to bring that same contribution again.