Embrace the OG Anunoby Experience

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Credits to: zach_nph/IG

Linear progression is exciting. Explosive progression is so much more.

OG Anunoby has been a top-tier ‘3 and D’ player in the NBA for 2 straight years. He was that archetype prior, but he’s genuinely been one of the best doing it these last 2 seasons. When a player reaches the upper echelon of any grouping they occupy, the logical question we ask is: “what’s next?”. We are all looking for the next leap. Promising young player to All-Star, All-Star to All-NBA, All-NBA to MVP, MVP to FMVP. We’re a greedy bunch, it’s true.

The question now: Is OG Anunoby staying firmly in the ‘Promising young player’ camp, or could he make the leap to All-Star, and perhaps grab a MIP accolade on the way?

Let’s lay out the known aspects of Anunoby’s game first, so we have a baseline of understanding to project his improvements on to. Anunoby is an All-NBA level defender. Few players in the NBA (if any) are better at suppressing shots from the league’s best players. He’s a stonewall in isolation. He’s had elite stretches of play as the low man defensively, rotating to protect the rim. He can lock & trail on the perimeter, and swat away dunk attempts. He’s shooting 39-percent from three on his (nearly) last 500 attempts. He can take big men off the bounce and get to the rim. He’s the best cutter on the Raptors (one of the best in his conference) and he’s immensely strong finishing at the bucket. That is what Anunoby undeniably brings to the table.

Back to the greedy. What is Anunoby doing now to propel himself to the next level? Let’s get into it.

The Pull-Up Jumper

Until this point (and perhaps into the future) Anunoby’s pull-up game has been severely limited. Pound dribbles into space to avoid aggressive closeouts have become a part of his game, but that doesn’t allow for dynamic shot-creation – it’s a weapon for that ‘3 and D’ archetype.

Anunoby took a pull-up jumper in 33 out of a possible 44 games last year. The results? Ugly. 20-percent from downtown, 34-percent from inside the arc, and 28-percent when paired together. The years prior are almost pointless to tease meaning from, he was pulling up in less than a third of his games, and season to season it could swing from as high as 45-percent to as low as 15-percent. That all points to one thing, and it’s that Anunoby was not providing anything meaningful with his pull-up jumper.

So, what everyone was looking for from Anunoby in preseason was volume. And Anunoby provided as healthy a dose of that as he could in a 4-game stretch. 18 pull-up jumpers (5/9 from 3, 3/9 from 2) in the preseason made his intentions clear as day. Anunoby is on the development super highway. Heavy reps, and in extremely difficult situations. Do we extrapolate those numbers into the regular season and move ahead thinking Anunoby is a taller, handsomer Steph Curry? No, definitely not. The sample size is tiny. However, do we pore over the tape to discover that Anunoby now has a repeatable sizeup move that he’s comfortable going to, has clearly implemented dribble combos meant for shot creation, and is using his long strides to create explosive separation and landing on balance for jumpers afterwards? Yes, we do.

“He’s our number one option right now.” Fred VanVleet on OG Anunoby

The numbers are fantastic, but they’re also completely unattainable. The reward is that Anunoby looks far more dynamic and dangerous with the ball in his hands, and we know that’s going to obligate more attention from the defense. Anunoby’s dedication to pulling-up early and often is the Bat Signal to the creation starved Raptors, that help is on the way.

Here’s every pull-up from preseason:

To go 8/18 on this collection of incredibly tough jumpers, is pretty damn good. 

Most encouraging among these are the jumpers where Anunoby is moving to his right. Most of his escape dribbles go to the left side because he’s more comfortable gathering that way. But the more options, the better.

Is the pull-up everything? Certainly not. My dear friend, Louis Zatzman wrote a terrific piece about what space it occupies in the NBA. So, when the jumper isn’t dropping, where do the NBA’s stars, and All-Stars go? To the bucket, or the free throw line.

The counting stats aren’t what’s important in the tweet – it’s the self creation numbers – but, for posterity here’s his per 75 possession splits instead, since that is a much better possession count to apply.

27 PTS/2.5 AST/5.6 RBS/2.1 STL

Driving

Given that Anunoby’s largest inherent advantages on the court are length and strength, it stands to reason that it would actually be easier for him to develop into a great driver rather than a great pull-up shooter. Handle and coordination obviously play into this heavily. When you think of players who get to the free throw line often (particularly amongst guards and wings) strength isn’t the most important factor. Players have to be able to put defenders in position where they are compromised, or off-balance. And especially when it comes to how the game is refereed, you want to be on balance as much as possible if you want to draw fouls.

This hasn’t been a strong suit of Anunoby’s. Luckily, he isn’t a player who struggles at drawing fouls and finishing at the bucket (he’s fantastic at the rim). 3.3 FTA per game (only 25MPG as well), and a free throw rate of .260-percent is aggressively average – perhaps below –  for a player spending as much time on-ball as Anunoby did in the preseason. Those would both qualify as career highs for Anunoby, though.

So, does the film indicate heaps of progression? I wouldn’t say so. The steps in that direction appear to be marginal. Anunoby has always been oscillating between ‘bambi on ice’ and ‘the best athlete you’ve ever seen’ on a drive-to-drive basis. He is an absolute funkfest, and we all need a larger sample size to say if anything is here to stay. Outside of the bruising, punishing body slams to guys who try and body him, and taking bigs off the bounce – that is so, so real.

The abuse of Sengun was a terrific watch, but it’s not new.

He almost caught a case of murder for what he did to Bembry here. And then boogies on Bam. 

Devastating trucking on Semi Ojeleye, and Domantas Sabonis here.

As for the playmaking, preseason didn’t provide a window into any progression from Anunoby there. To his credit, he was way more focused on scoring the hell out of the ball.  That doesn’t mean he’s a below average passer or anything like that. In fact, he’s always been pretty heady at finding guys in the dunker spot or relocating from downtown. Not having blinders on is a pretty big plus in the NBA though, and we know Anunoby can spot the open man and make the correct read.

Miscellaneous + Wishes

There are smaller parts of Anunoby’s offensive game that have gone unmentioned in this piece until now. He’s currently the Raptors best zone-buster, as he has a great feel for soft-spots in the defense. If you put him in 3-on-2 or 4-on-3 scenarios, he’s shown he can make a bunch of great reads. He’s also one of the Raptors best rollers. He maintains passing lanes extremely well for the handler, that sense for open space still applies, and at times his use of footwork can be downright inspired.

It helps that it’s Paul Reed stepping up and not Joel Embiid, but this is a genius application of his pickup point and footwork from Anunoby. Genuinely, a special roll to the hoop.

So, while Anunoby has clearly shown he’s willing to go to work in iso situations this preseason (and hopefully that translates), the best version of him going forward is the one that is used in a multitude of actions. The Raptors and Nick Nurse already threw Siakam to the wolves by immediately tasking him with one of the highest isolation loads in the league. Anunoby should very clearly still be utilized as a trigger man in DHO’s (or running off of them), a screener who can short-roll, pop, or roll all the way to the bucket, and a spacer for other set plays to hit spot-up triples, or cripple the defense after attacking a closeout. All that in addition to the step-up screens, pick n’ rolls, and isolations he’s been playing off of more frequently in the preseason.

If the Raptors are anywhere close to .500 by the time All-Star selections roll around, Anunoby will make his first All-Star game, and will no doubt be selected to his first All-Defense team at seasons end. None of this will be strictly because he’s shooting off the dribble more often. It’s because the foundation of his game as a shooter, cutter and defender is already so damn good, that adding anything on top starts to move him towards an extremely valuable player. Embrace the OG Anunoby Experience.

Hope you enjoyed the read.

Have a blessed day.

 

 

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