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OG Anunoby is cool, and one of the NBA’s best defenders

OG Anunoby has a certain proclivity towards the word “cool”. He often uses it to describe things that other people get really excited about, describing it in what seems like dead-pan. When asked whether he prefers blocks or steals, the answer was: “I don’t know. I guess equal. They’re both cool.”

It’s fitting that this word occupies space as a go-to in his vocabulary, because Anunoby is as cool as they come. Our culture is often tantalized by characters who offer very little of themselves, Kawhi Leonard comes to mind in that regard. The Raptors have acquiesced to Anunoby’s aloof personality and made it a fixture of how they feature him.

Anunoby’s aloof off-court personality is in stark contrast to how in-your-face his defense can be. There are facets of his defense that we’ve known about prior to this year, he’s a menace above the break; hunting wing-to-point and point-to-wing passes like a hawk and gliding to the rim on the other end. His length and tenacity has the ability to make ball-handlers feel trapped in the middle of the court; not trapped in a double, but without recourse to get around or through Anunoby.

For Anunoby, the biggest step has come on the back end of the defense. It’s this confidence to cover the whole court that has made him stand out as the Raptors best defender, on a team full of fantastic defenders.

There’s a reason the NBA covets wing players above all else. The ability to to meld the playstyle of a guard on offense and a big on defense is what makes Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron James so incredibly valuable. Anunoby has made a huge leap in the beginning part of this year as far as help-side defense is concerned. Mixing the interior defense with the perimeter defense has been… potent.

*Anunoby spies Vucevic on the roll, recognizing that he has the edge on Gasol. He makes the quick decision to help from the corner, Siakam floats into the space where a Vucevic pass would go and Anunoby skies for a massive swat.*

*Anunoby plays the middle ground between Young and Lavine – jumping Young as soon as he commits and coming up with an impressive stuff at the rim.*

Those are only two occasions, but the numbers illustrate this point even further. Anunoby is facing 4.8 attempts at the rim per contest through four games this season, and opponents are shooting a paltry and gobsmacking 31.6-percent on those opportunities.

Not only is Anunoby profiling as one of the league’s premier rim defenders, he’s routinely lining up against the oppositions best wing players. He most recently blanketed Aaron Gordon for the duration of the Raptors win against the Magic. He flashed all areas of his defense, as he’s been doing every game so far this year. Showing a keen awareness of the Raptors scheme, whether he was trailing Gordon off a pin-down or a flare screen. Anunoby routinely forced Gordon to his weak hand, and hovered close enough to deny a pull-up opportunity. Every time Gordon made a play on the ball he ended up squished between Anunoby and the help-side defense, as the former went 1-6 from the floor from the floor with three turnovers and a +/- of -17.

The biggest takeaway is that Anunoby is four-for-four in the games so far this season. There is no slippage, no let down. There’s never been a reason to complain about his defense, but without question this is the step. The ease with which Anunoby has timed his help-defense, corralled players to the baseline or sideline and overwhelmed weak ball handlers has been a joy to watch.

After the departure of Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors have struggled to clean up the defensive glass this season. Taking into account that the Raptors downsized by putting Fred VanVleet in the starting lineup as well, there’s a call to action on the roster for players to rebound. Enter, Anunoby. He’s gobbling up 6 defensive rebounds a game, punching in the highest rebounding percentage of his career, and helping out Siakam and Gasol as they try to adjust to the new quirks of this years roster.

Altogether, Anunoby is flexing a personal defensive rating of 95.9 – right in line with the Raptors 3rd best rating league wide, a number he contributes to no doubt – snatching 1.5 steals a game, and blocking an absurd 2.3. Players like Steph Curry, James Harden, and Monta Ellis have put up gaudy steal numbers before, but that never meant they were good defenders, just ready to gamble. The same can’t be said for Anunoby.

*stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats*

The thing about Anunoby’s defense that is so striking is that it’s been all-encompassing. He’s stealing the ball without gambling, getting blocks without hunting for them, and dominating his primary matchup. Proficiency in one area doesn’t takeaway from the others, it’s quite simply one of the league’s best defensive floor games of the young season.

This piece doesn’t get even get into his sterling offensive performances, and that might be a shame, but Anunoby’s defense has been so good that it requires it’s own chapter at this point. Anunoby has been one of the league’s best defenders without question. The eye test confirms it, the numbers bear it out, and the Raptors benefit from it. All that’s left is for us to sit back and watch him do it for the rest of the year, which he will.

Oh yeah, and when he’s asked to comment on his inclusion on the All-NBA Defensive squad, you can bet his answer will include the word “cool”.

Have a blessed day.

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