After a month removed from NBA basketball, OG Anunoby returned to the Raptors lineup and fixed everything all at once.
When asked if he was surprised that he shot so well from 3 with a finger injury and so much missed time, OG answered definitively: “No.”. The same question in a different form was posed to him; did he expect it to be that good right off the bat? The answer was, of course: “Yeah.”. A man of very few words, but he can certainly convey what he wants to. Reporters have to do a lot of the leg work to get the most out of an Anunoby answer. His teammates don’t have to do much to get the most out of him on the court, though.
The shooting bump that Anunoby provided to a team that desperately needs one is the first question for a reason, but the other contributions he provides are invaluable. The cascading, tumbling in of opportunities that his presence provides for his teammates can’t be shrunk down to his shooting talent. Anunoby’s bevy of important skills plug themselves in where necessary, making everything easier for his team.
Pascal Siakam had one of the best 3-point shooting games of his life, and Anunoby played a massive part in getting him started. A well timed cut to drag a defender away and open up Siakam for a wide-open three, lifting up to provide help to a drive (once again pulling a defender up) and dumping off to a, once again, wide-open Siakam for three – Siakam only took 33 corner threes over the course of the whole season (hitting 16), but the first 3 of his 6 made threes in this game came from the corner pocket. Siakam is rarely ever put in easy positions, but Anunoby’s gravity and keen awareness of how he shapes the defense allowed Siakam the space and opportunity. There are players on the Raptors, who receive minutes, that don’t impact defenses this way. Motion can go unchecked, but not Anunoby’s.
“I think we complement each other well. We’re both 6’8″- 6’9″, athletic, can shoot. It’s tough for teams to guard.” Anunoby said of Siakam after the win. “And then with Scottie, Precious, Chris, Fred, Gary, Thad. The whole team, all of us, we complement each other well. And I think we’re tough to guard.”
When the Raptors faced off against the Cavaliers earlier this month, Fred VanVleet wasn’t available, Gary Trent Jr. was in the funk that he’s still occupying, and the Raptors put up a paltry 18 points from downtown on 25-percent shooting. The Cavs mixed in zone looks with tight-shelled man defense. Siakam’s drives into the teeth of it generated kick-outs to wide open shooters, but the promise of points rarely ever came. Anunoby wasn’t so much a revenge tour, as he was the proper offensive punctuation point of an NBA offense – the Raptors miss that sorely at times.
“He’s another person out there that you can kick the ball to.” Siakam said of Anunoby after the win. “I think that he’s gonna be open, they help off of him, you know that’ll always be open and he’s gonna make those shots. So, I’m definitely glad to have him back. Obviously, he’s not where he probably wants to be, but it just felt super good to have him out there. Someone else to kick the ball to, and he’s gonna make plays and come out and play defense. So yeah, I was really impressed with the fact that he hasn’t played and he came back and played like he did today. So yeah, good job to OG.”
An empty-side ‘DHO’ with one of the league’s best drivers and a great shooter never hurt anyone.
And the ramifications of Anunoby’s shooting hitting the lineup are far-reaching. Over his last 7 games, VanVleet is hoisting up over 17 shots a game, and shooting less than 36-percent from the floor, and 28-percent from three, respectively. While he deals with this lingering knee injury, a major offensive burden is an overextension for VanVleet. With Anunoby back in, not only does it simplify some of the screening actions for the point guard, but it allows him to assume the role of “spacer” on offense instead of creator. Pared down, the Raptors can still weaponize VanVleet’s shooting without running his body ragged through the physical toll of an offensive engine in the NBA. Only 9 attempts, a tidy 40-percent from 3, VanVleet found a comfortable role against the Cavaliers and finished with a +15.
Not to be forgotten are the plays where Anunoby extends advantages on offense. Screening and rolling to the rim for free throws, attacking a closeout and dumping off to Barnes for a layup. The added punch and connectivity he adds to the defensive end of the floor. The Raptors have faced a few stars while he was away, and had he been available to step out on them, who knows how some of those losses might have turned out. He provides so much it almost seems passive, but it’s all very intentional.
As we keep our minds on Anunoby, Trent Jr., and VanVleet finding their way into the playoffs with good health, it’s important to consider the workload ramifications of more depth as far as it pertains to Siakam. He’s played every single game since Dec. 28th at nearly 40 minutes every night, and when asked about the physicality of the Cavs game, he didn’t mince words in sharing how physical he feels every night is for him:
“All these games are physical, to me it’s physical every single night. You know, just driving, and the physicality. As someone who has the ball most of the time it’s like, you know, you can feel it for sure. Yeah, it feels like that every night for me, I’ll say.” – Pascal Siakam
OG BACK LETS GOOOOO pic.twitter.com/PUFDVBQsjQ
— Samson Folk (the coach) (@samfolkk) March 24, 2022
And this is the major appeal of Anunoby’s return. Outside of a young man finding his health and getting to return to something he’s really good at, the intersections of a lot of the Raptors weaknesses and pressing issues tie into his return. The first look back at it? Really damn good. So, I’ll echo Siakam’s sentiments as a signoff. Good job to OG.
Have a blessed day.