OG Anunoby, eligible for a contract extension in the forthcoming offseason (timeline TBD), will present a test of Ujiri’s recent preference. Anunoby has been a starter in two of his three seasons with the Raptors. He is an excellent defender with an expanding offensive game. In the playoffs, it looked like he was ready for more responsibility.
“He was certainly a huge bright spot in the playoffs,” Nick Nurse said about Anunoby two weeks ago. “I just think he looked comfortable out there. I thought he guarded a number of positions. He shot the ball well. He obviously made some big plays. He looked better at the start and at the end of his drives. … It just looked like he’s getting to be a better player, which is huge. I think experience and time on the floor and time in the league and just having a run on the floor of being healthy certainly helps him there. And just as far as moving forward he’s super hungry, he’s really starting to dive into some of the technical aspects of his game. He really, really wants to be coached. He really wants to work.”
However, the Raptors, at least for now, have other matters on their minds. As Ujiri said during his end-of-season conference call, the Raptors are trying to balance the importance of remaining competitive next season with the opportunity to be a major player in the free-agent class of 2021, which might include Giannis Antetokounmpo. If the Raptors do not sign Anunoby to an extension, he would become a restricted free agent that same year, and represent a cap hold of $11.62-million in 2021-22 (explained here and here), and the Raptors would have the right to match any offer sheet Anunoby signed.
Moreover, that $11.62-million is bound to be lower than the starting salary of the contract he signs, with the Raptors or anybody else. The idea would be to sign Antetokounmpo (or someone else) with the extra space under the salary cap, then match an offer or sign Anunoby to a new deal. Again, the Raptors want Anunoby around. This is the same approach the Spurs used with Kawhi Leonard in 2014, allowing them to sign LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency the next season and then re-sign Leonard to a maximum-eligible rookie extension. Of course, that team-player relationship broke down three years later, so it is perhaps not the best example.
There is another element that makes the Anunoby decision difficult: Players like him rarely sign extensions. Anunoby has a career usage percentage of 14 percent, six ticks below the league average. He has never been above 15.5 percent in any of his three seasons or two playoff runs. And it’s not that defence isn’t taken into the equation in these negotiations. Rather, it’s rare for players with such low usage to be given an extension.
This is the part where I mention the importance of that shot. I won’t. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then please go back and re-watch all the various musical montages above. In fact, go bacl even further, and remember what you felt after Daniel Theis put the Celtics up two with half a second remaining. With the prospect of going down 0-3, Twitter fingers were ready to pounce on Pascal Siakam (their time would come) and cement Kemba Walker as the Raptor Killer, except OG Anunoby did THAT! I’m speechless!
Putting OG Anunoby’s season into words is difficult because his impact stretches far beyond counting stats, viral videos, and the occasional buzzer-beater. Toronto’s last loss before the pandemic was in Denver. The team’s only visit to the Mile High City was marked by the worst combination of absences (which says a lot about the season), as Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol all missed the game due to injury. Anunoby came through in a big way with 32 points (career-high), seven steals (also career-high), seven rebounds, and three 3-pointers. That’s the largest point total, along with the other admittedly arbitrary stats, by any player in NBA history. His growth and versatility not only opened the door to small ball lineups, but may lighten the blow if Ibaka and Gasol both head out of Scotiabank Arena.
Whenever it appeared the Raptors needed a pick-me-up, OG Anunoby was there. The fifth scoring option on most nights was there to get buckets whenever his seldom used number was called. Tasked with defending the opposition’s best scorer night-in and night-out, Anunoby consistently came through with active hands, quick feet, and incredible defensive instincts. An off-season of uncertainty awaits the Toronto Raptors. There’s a great deal of comfort knowing one of the few certainties is having an Oguagua on the team.
Skill No. 2: Dribble penetration
The Raptors ranked 18th in the league in free throws attempted per 100 possessions in the regular season at 22.8, and ranked 13th of 16 teams in the postseason at 22.1. That matches the eye test that had the Raptors, when they weren’t running, relying on a heavy dose of pull-up 3 attempts (11th and fifth in the regular season and playoffs, respectively). It has never been easier to get fouled on 3-point attempts, but it is still comparatively difficult when considering other shot types.
The Raptors need to become more effective drivers. The Raptors averaged just 44 drives per game, which was 21st in the league. As with many things, driving a lot does not necessarily mean you are running a good offence. The Clippers, Trail Blazers, Nuggets, Heat and Bucks all drove the ball less often than the Raptors, and they all had top-10 offences. However, save for Denver, all of those teams were in the top half of the league in field goal percentage off of drives. The Raptors ranked 23rd, at 45.6 percent.
In the Celtics series, it was apparent that Kyle Lowry was pretty much the only player on the roster who could reliably put his head down and get a decent shot at the rim. Without having a mid-range wizard, that type of aggressiveness is necessary against the better defensive teams. The Raptors’ two most frequent drivers, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam, shot just 37.1 percent and 44.2 percent on those looks.
Effective driving is one of the more expensive skills out there, so addressing it externally will be difficult.
What are the early whispers in terms of free-agent targets for this upcoming offseason? — Blaine T.
I think it’s more of the same for Houston as we’ve seen over the years — quality wings, 3&D options, serviceable bigs. The Rockets are a pretty aggressive team and have yearly interest in a ton of players. I’ll always reference this Rockets quote from a few seasons ago: “If he’s good, we’re interested”.
Rockets fans have been waiting patiently — or impatiently, depending on which side of Twitter you’re on — for names like Serge Ibaka and Jerami Grant. Grant recently turned down his $9.3 million player option for next season in hopes of a more lucrative deal, and his bubble performance probably priced Houston out of the market, but Ibaka is a more interesting option. He’d be the latest piece in Houston’s attempts to recreate the Thunder glory days, but Ibaka allows you to diversify your portfolio. He’s big enough to not allow Houston to get obliterated on the boards and skilled enough to stay on the floor and space and even add some playmaking in spots. The only issue is his market, and if it’s closer to what he earned last season ($34 million) or more down to earth (productive full MLE to $12-15 million per). Ibaka might be an interesting sign-and-trade option as well if that’s what you’re into. It’s still unclear what will happen with Ibaka — he could very well resign in Toronto after reports of Marc Gasol taking his talents back to Spain — but I poked around with his camp a few months ago and those relationships with Harden and Westbrook are still very strong. Please don’t aggregate me.
From Summer League to the regular season, ahead of its shutdown, Davis showed he can score. He had the ability to get to the rim himself, and he was solid without the ball as well.
Davis had 78 paint touches, ranking seventh on the Raptors, and he shot 72.2 percent when he had the ball there. He also had a total of 214 drives to the rim, which put him sixth on the Raptors, and while he averaged less than one field goal per game attacking the rim, Davis still shot 46.2 percent doing so. That said, he only shot 12 free throws out of his drives to the hoop, so an area to work on for the future will be to learn how to draw contact versus defenders. Of course, Davis was also fourth amongst rookies in three-point percentage (minimum 100 attempts), so he presented a complete scoring game anyway.
For him to be a true impact player and someone Nurse can go-to consistently, Davis will need to become a better overall defender, both in man-to-man schemes and as a help defender. His quickness and length should help him get there though.
In all, Davis’ journey proves that if you want it enough, betting on yourself is not a bad idea. The rookie capped his year off by being named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. Not bad for an undrafted player. Meanwhile, Davis’ career has just started, but we should expect to see him take on a larger role with the Raptors next season.
The potential departure of VanVleet during free agency could open the need for a back up point guard, where Davis played limited minutes this year. He probably won’t be a full-time backup at that spot, but if the Raptors can’t find someone to fill the position consistently, Davis is an option.
There could also be a need for the Raptors to clear cap space this summer to re-sign VanVleet and/or Serge Ibaka (or Marc Gasol?), and with that could come the trade of Powell. If that does become the case, then Davis’ role will almost certainly expand for next season.
Overall, the rookie bet on himself and the Raptors did too. Through one season it has worked for both sides. Davis still has room to grow and improve, but he has put the league on notice with a rookie campaign that showcased his scoring talents. It’s now about taking the next steps with a larger role and more opportunity.
Siakam looked like a shell of the All-NBA talent Raptors fans have grown accustomed to once he entered the league’s bubble at Disney World. The Cameroonian’s scoring and efficiency cratered, leading to an overall dip of nearly seven points per game from his pre-bubble numbers.
GP PTS FG% 3P% FT% REB AST STL BLK DD
Pre 53 23.6 45.9 35.9 80.0 7.5 3.6 1.0 0.9 12
Post 18 16.9 39.5 26.5 71.6 6.8 3.2 1.1 0.4 4
Toronto regularly leaned on Siakam to produce as its No. 1 option, especially in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Boston Celtics. Unfortunately for the Raptors, he managed to score more than 20 points just once in the seven games and connected on only four of his 32 long-range attempts.
The Raptors will hope Siakam’s struggles in the bubble prove to be a minor speed bump on his otherwise incredible journey to stardom. How well the forward can recover from this setback in the first year of his new max contract will go a long way in determining the team’s ceiling next season.
Now, let’s throw those tin foil hats on and dive a little deeper.
Yesterday, Harrell posted a picture on his Instagram story, showing off his AAU team’s logo stating how he is building the best program. The team’s name is the Raptors and they share the same logo as Toronto.
People obviously jumped all over this, assuming that this was a new creation and that it could only mean he was naming his AAU team after the team he plans to join next. From a quick Google search, it looks like that is not the case and the team has had the Raptor logo at least since July. We can probably chalk this up to nothing.
However, Trezz DID recently follow the Toronto Raptors on Instagram. During the offseason, who players follow and unfollow on social media is highly checked on, so it makes sense people were able to find this out quickly. I hopped on Trezz’s Insta and searched through the 2,009 accounts he’s following.
I checked and he doesn’t follow the Dallas Mavericks, Chicago Bulls, or the New York Knicks, three teams that are reportedly interested in signing him. He is, however, still following the Clippers.
I won’t sit here and say Trezz is for sure heading to Canada but the signs are pointing that way. As he makes his decision, make sure to continue to check back here for all your LA Clippers news, rumors, and more!