The Next Step in OG Anunoby’s Development Involves Getting to the Line

OG Anunoby is making a big leap.  The comparisons between Anunoby and teammate Pascal Siakam have been made before: Both were drafted late in the first round (Siakam went 27th in 2016, Anunoby went 23rd in 2017), both came into the league as projects without a reliable jump shot, and now, both are making leaps…

OG Anunoby is making a big leap. 

The comparisons between Anunoby and teammate Pascal Siakam have been made before: Both were drafted late in the first round (Siakam went 27th in 2016, Anunoby went 23rd in 2017), both came into the league as projects without a reliable jump shot, and now, both are making leaps as featured players on a Raptors team that lost Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in the offseason.

But Anunoby and Siakam are radically different players at different stages of their careers. Siakam, with one more year of NBA experience, is making his second gigantic leap in a row, going from a bench piece to the third-option on a championship team to the first-option and All-NBA player in less than three seasons.

But comparing Anunoby — or any player in the history of basketball, really — to Siakam is unfair: The size of the leap Siakam has taken over the last two seasons is just plain different and doesn’t have much precedence at all.

Anunoby is in his third NBA season, and he is making an important leap himself — one that shouldn’t be looked over. Anunoby is averaging 12.4/5.5/1.7 on 58/53/60 shooting in 29.9 minutes per game, ALL career-highs, while effectively guarding the opponent’s best player every night, putting himself in the All-Star conversation.

But Anunoby isn’t a finished product. The 22-year-old was always a decent shooter, but he entered the league as a defensive specialist with an imposing frame and long wingspan.

Anunoby shot 36.5 percent from three in his two seasons in college at Indiana but slipped in the draft due to a knee injury. However, after his first season with the Raptors where he shot 37.1 percent from three as a starter, it was clear Anunoby could develop into a reliable 3-and-D player; to the optimists, that seemed like the floor for Anunoby. Well, the floor has already been reached. 

Anunoby’s defensive excellence has been well documented: with Leonard gone, Anunoby is being tasked with guarding the best player on the opposite team every night, and he is slowing down the league’s best players. Opponents are shooting just 37.9 percent against him this season, according to’s tracking data, and he is averaging 2.2 SBLOCKS (steals plus blocks) per game.

Anunoby is doing everything asked of him in Nick Nurse’s offense, and more. Most of his half-court offense is coming from threes or cuts to the rim. He is shooting 53 percent from behind the arc on a career-high 3.9 three-point attempts per game. When he isn’t shooting, he’ll often pump fake his defender, who has to respect the shot, and drive to the rim. Anonoby’s 70.0. true shooting percentage is the second-best in the entire league, while the rest of the top-seven are all centers or power forwards. 

OG has always been a decent passer, but he is averaging a career-high 1.7 assists this season as he acts as a complementary facilitator in Nurse’s movement-oriented offense.

Anunoby also looks more comfortable working out of either end of the pick-and-roll this season. 

Anonoby is doing everything asked of him this season with insane effectiveness, scoring 1.46 points per possession (38th in the league), and he deserves a bigger share of the offense considering his usage percentage of 14.2 is 12th on the Raptors. With that in mind, there is one key area of Anunoby’s game he should immediately make it a point of emphasis to improve on: Getting to the line. 

Anunoby has always had trouble getting to the charity stripe, shooting 0.9 free-throws per game at just 60.4 percent in his career. This season, he is averaging just 0.8 free-throw attempts and 0.5 free-throws made per game. That puts him in a group with rookies like Ky Bowman and aging veterans like Kyle Korver, which is not where he wants to be. For reference, Siakam averaged 1.1 free-throw attempts per game in his second season, climbing to 3.8 last season and 4.8 this season. 

Getting to the stripe is an important aspect of any NBA wing’s game. Now that defenders have to respect Anunoby’s shot and guard him up close, he should have an easier time getting past his defender and going to the rim. However, Anunoby’s effectiveness won’t be fully realized without the ability (and desire) to initiate and finish through contact. Anunoby has the size and strength to attack the rim the same way Leonard does, but he has to want to. 

It starts with being aggressive: Anunoby will often shy away from contact at the rim when there are bodies around him even if he has good positioning. Instead of going up strong, he’ll often dribble out of the paint and reset the offense. It’s the right move for a role player, but Anunoby deserves a featured role in this offense, and he needs to be more aggressive to earn one.

Aside from being more aggressive, Anunoby can slowly start to add moves that help him initiate contact, such as developing a tighter dribble to have an easier time getting through bodies to the paint, hesitation moves, changing speed, or pump-faking and going right back up when a defender bites (a la James Harden). 

With Leonard gone, the Raptors are struggling to get to the line, shooting just 21.3 free-throw attempts per game (25th in the league), down from 22.3 last season. Everyone understands how important free-throws are in terms of stopping the game and getting easy buckets, especially considering the Raptors have the second-best free-throw percentage this season at 83.4. 

The Raptors already have the 10th best offensive rating in the league despite playing a tough early schedule. That is impressive given their injuries and lack of star-power. But it’s not going to cut it against the best teams in the Eastern Conference in the playoffs where the starters — including Anunoby, their best defender — will be given more minutes and responsibility. 

That we are even talking about the playoffs this early into the season is a testament to this Raptors team, as they are showing they can compete with the best in the East. But they are going to need a bit more from Anunoby — who is filling Leonard’s role as the starting small forward — to get them over the hump. Not only will Anunoby have to slow down the opponents’ best players (including Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Gordon Hayward/Kemba Walker/Jason Tatum, and Tobias Harris), he will also need to do even more than he is offensively. That means getting to the charity stripe more often and shooting better from there.

That’s a tall order for a 22-year-old in his first season with a real role in the offense, but Anunoby has done everything asked of him this season. It’s time to add another wrinkle to his game. 

All statistics current as of November 20, 2019.