OG Anunoby is waiting on the weak-side, Kawhi Leonard drives to the hoop and draws the help-side defense. Anunoby sees this and ducks under the rim, Leonard drops off to Anunoby, but he’s surrounded by three defenders. This isn’t a problem for the incredibly strong Anunoby, he rises up for a 2-handed jam in traffic. I’m certain most Raptors fans have said to themselves: “Man, he dunks everything.”
Anunoby doesn’t dunk everything, but he dunks an incredibly high amount of his attempts at the rim. 33-percent of his makes at the rim are dunks, and dunk attempts comprise 40-percent of his shots at the rim. That’s a higher percentage than Joel Embiid, and comes in just a shade under MVP-candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo. So how is Anunoby dunking at a similar rate to the 7’3″ Embiid and the freaky Antetokounmpo? Well, he’s really strong.
I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a player at Anunoby’s size, finishing at the rim with that regularity. Rudy Gay comes to mind, but it always seemed like his arms were doing all the work. Don’t get me wrong, Anunoby is a lengthy fellow. He could wash a car’s windshield without doing it one half at a time. But it seems like his legs do all the work on his dunks. He dips so low before rising through the trees for a slam, where as Gay would jump really quick and sneak the ball in before the help came over.
After years of watching Patrick Patterson, and DeMarre Carroll at the rim, having a guy like Anunoby throw down about a third of everything he touches at the rim is great. You could spend hours watching tape of the aforementioned players and never see anything like this:
He’s got two players draped on him, one being the notoriously grizzly Robin Lopez and he powers through the contact with ease. In addition to this, we’ve seen Anunoby lockdown James Harden, who makes a living mixing power and finesse. So how does Anunoby achieve the latter, while maintaining the former?
Anunoby’s dribble is often-times stress inducing. He leans over top of the ball and uses his forearms to push the ball instead of his wrists. This really limits the surface area of his dribble and makes him overly predictable to defenders. His shoulders will always point to where he’s attacking. This is why you only ever see Anunoby get to the rim when he attacks from a triple threat. He’ll never be able to breakdown opponents consistently if he can’t play with the ball farther away from his body.
His viability as a pick n’ roll ball handler will go great lengths to deciding if he will be closer to Trevor Ariza or Paul George. I’m not saying Anunoby is going to be George, as those expectations are completely unfair, but I think it’s reasonable to expect him to be a high-value role player at the least. It’s also not a huge deal to ask Anunoby to take a crack at ‘pnr’ possessions. Players league-wide are shoving that into their bag to enhance their value. Players like Taurean Prince, and Mario Hezonja both try their hand at 3 possessions a game in that role. Both players have more polish than Anunoby, but the gap isn’t very far.
Would it be nice if Anunoby suddenly had the unorthodox handles of Caris Levert? Of course, but he’ll likely never be there. Luckily for Anunoby, he’ll never need an incredible dribbling package. He only needs the essentials. An in-n-out dribble to get his hips ahead of his defender. A wider crossover to manipulate how his defender runs into the screen. If Anunoby can create those margins for himself, we can see him finishing at the rim with similar ease to Kawhi Leonard. That’s not to say he’s Leonard, or that his handle is anywhere close, but both of them use incredible strength to get to the basket, as opposed to shaking people out of their lane.
Even though Anunoby hit a somewhat shocking 37-percent of his threes last year, it’s clear that his jumper needs work. With Anunoby being an imposing athlete, not a smooth one. His jumper was very rigid last year. He dipped the ball to his hips, and finished pushing away from his chest, not above his shoulders. This hinders his ability to shoot off the dribble tremendously. It’s why we’ve only ever seen him make a shot taking his momentum forward into a shot – think of a pull-up 3-pointer – and to this day we haven’t seen him fade left or right.
Of course players can become great shooters regardless of this, but there’s always consequences to the overall game. Lou Williams still can’t pull-up going to his right because of his shooting stance. Williams shoots with his feet pointed way far to the left, meaning if he wants to pull-up while going right he needs his butt to suddenly be where his chest is. You’re not going to completely halt your momentum, and do a 180- turn to get into your shooting mechanics. It’s not feasible. Lonzo Ball is going through similar problems right now.
In last year’s iteration of Anunoby’s jump-shot, his dip was so low, and his finish so shallow, that any deviation to his base usually resulted in a horrible miss. In the offseason, he made a couple changes. His release point has come above his head, and his elbows have gone a bit wider. This means that his chest is becoming the pickup point for his jumper. The higher release point obviously makes it a quicker shot, but having his chest become the center of his jumper instead of his hips makes him far more dangerous.
It’s far easier to square your chest to the rim, than it is your whole body all at once. Steph Curry’s legs can be all over the place, but from the chest up he’s always the same. Similar to George, one second he’ll have his hips twisted sideways, the next, the shot is going up and in because he’s squared off from the chest up. These subtle changes to Anunoby’s jumper make him far more dangerous as a shooter going forward.
The early returns have been subpar, but I think as the season goes on and he moves past the tragedy that kept him out of the games early, we’ll see some progression from his jumper.
Anunoby has the tools to insert himself into the pool of players who are often considered for All-NBA defensive teams, most pundits and fans are certain of that. With his physical gifts he’ll always be imposing around the rim as well, and we can only expect that to become more apparent as he gets older. Defense will be the defining narrative of Anunoby’s career, but there’s no reason he can’t become a plus in a few other areas. There’s no reason Anunoby’s offensive game can’t look like the affable Tobias Harris’ a year or two from now.
Hope you enjoyed the piece, we all want to see our son become Kawhi Leonard.
Have a blessed day.