Petyr Baelish — nicknamed Littlefinger – may not have seen all his schemes succeed, but because he was always scheming one way or another, he could never be discounted in Game of Thrones. When he said “chaos is a ladder,” he conveniently left out the component that he spent so much of his energy ensuring chaos reigned supreme. All this to say: There is more to consistency in the NBA than made shots. And within the boundless chaos of the Toronto Raptors on the court, there’s a ladder virtually everywhere you look.
OG Anunoby is both one of the largest beneficiaries of Raptors basketball while also being held back by it. He may be shooting a poor-for-him 35.1 percent from deep in the playoffs, but he remains in many ways the most consistent force on the court for the team. Pascal Siakam has been the star. But Anunoby is settling nicely into his role as Robin.
Yet Anunoby has been hamstrung because of Toronto’s limitations as a team. With Fred VanVleet hobbled, the team employs exactly two players who have made more than 1.0 triples a game — Anunoby and Gary Trent jr. Because there’s such a dearth of spacing, Anunoby is forced to spend most of his time orbiting the arc. But just because he’s excellent there, and sorely needed, doesn’t mean he’s not useful elsewhere.
Anunoby is one of Toronto’s three post-up wizards, yet he’s used almost half as many possessions per game in the post as he did in the regular season. He’s elite as a roll man — yet again, he’s been using fewer than 1.0 possessions per game there in the playoffs. Similarly, he’s been Toronto’s most efficient player in isolation on a beefy 3.0 such attempts per game in the playoffs — perhaps the only area he has been employed beyond simple spot-ups, and he’s rewarded the team for its trust. He could do so much more.
Toronto runs a read-and-react offense. It looks much clunkier at times than offenses based on spread pick and rolls from individual do-everything creators, but the Raptors work fairly well in the muck and mud of the playoffs. Anuonby is excellent in the system. He makes fast decisions, with the lowest average touch time and average dribbles per touch among Toronto’s usual five starters. He simplifies. In the chaos of Toronto’s offense, Anunoby is an island of calm, the eye of the storm. He may not be hitting all his triples, but he is offering so many threats and so consistently, that like Littlefinger, he always has one scheme or another paying off in the half court.
Within the chaos of Toronto’s defense, Anunoby is the apocalypse. There can’t be a ladder on that side for the safety of the opponents — Anunoby would be using it to drop the people’s elbow on his opponents. He is endlessly long and strong, constantly stunting and digging and doubling and rotating and tagging and switching — yet he never (never!) sacrifices positioning. He is chaos. He may be Robin on the offensive side, but he’s a supervillain going the other way, as much the Joker as he is Dr. Doom.
Anunoby has challenged 50 shots through five games, and opponents have only made 20. That defensive field goal percentage is the second-lowest among rotation Raptors. But if you look even deeper, he’s accomplished that while also defending Philadelphia’s best scorers. According to (the obviously not 100 percent reliable) NBA Advanced Stats matchup data, Anunoby has guarded James Harden for 103 possessions (he shot 2 for 5), Joel Embiid for 46 possessions (7 of 13), and Tyrese Maxey for 54 possessions (4 of 10). The missed shots are one thing, but the lack of shots — with Anunoby functioning as Toronto’s primary on-ball defender! — is even more impressive. Add it all together, and Anunoby has been the tip of Toronto’s defensive spear, arguably the best on-ball defender in the series, and one of the core reasons — along with Siakam, perhaps most evidently — why the Raptors’ defense has started working.
Among Raptors’ players, Anunoby has the second-best defensive on/offs during the playoffs. (Siakam is first.) Anunoby’s presence on the court is the single biggest determinant of opposing turnovers and opposing missed shots. That’s an outrageous combination. Most thieves sacrifice solidity in order to gamble for steals, yet Anunoby somehow apparates into driving lanes before dissolving and appearing elsewhere to dissuade both shots and drives from his own man after the pass comes. How many players can switch between ball dominant initiators like Harden, speedy off-ball attackers like Maxey, and post brutes like Embiid? And then — how many of those can still tear up opponents’ best-laid plans as an off-ball defender, besides? Anunoby is one of one.
And the scariest part is that he could do so much more. In Toronto’s committee approach to rim protection, Anunoby is forcing opponents to below 50 percent shooting at the rim, second-best on the team (Chris Boucher is first!), yet he’s only fifth on the team in number of contests there. In Toronto’s offensive system, Anunoby could be initiating out of the pick and roll, the post, isolation, as a screener, and more. Yet he’s tasked almost exclusively with scoring in transition or shooting and attacking rotations in the half court. If chaos is a ladder, Anunoby has so many more rungs he could climb.
But he’s thriving at his current station. He is versatile, which means in some ways he becomes typecast, but it also means he’s indispensable. The team doesn’t roster a whole ton of (offensive) versatility, to be honest. Anunoby is overqualified for his current position, but he’s been fantastic at it regardless. Behind his consistency, the Raptors are halfway to history. And looking beyond this individual series or even this year’s playoff run, Anunoby is only 24 years old. He has many seasons to grow into larger roles on teams that can better suit his offensive versatility. While Littlefinger’s schemes eventually got him into trouble, Anunoby’s are only just starting to bear fruit.