OG Anunoby could still become a star with the Raptors

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OG Anunoby is one of the league’s most misunderstood players. Ask a group of NBA fans what they think of OG Anunoby and you may get five different answers. OG can’t be classified as a role player (like many try to call him), and he can’t quite be classified as a star either. At least not yet. But after this season, OG may elevate himself into that star category and end many of those misconceptions about his game. He’s only 25 years old, and he has latent abilities that haven’t yet had a chance to bloom.

Anunoby is already a high end player in his role on the Raptors. He does mostly off-ball stuff due to the presence of Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam, so this entails simple catch-and-shoot triples and closeout attacking as the bulk of his production on offense. He is a knockdown shooter off the catch, shooting a terrific 39.4 percent on catch and shoot threes and a good 36 percent on threes in general. He is also a great finisher, shooting at a 61-percent clip at the rim. OG would be a seamless fit on any team in the NBA due to those fundamental skills. They also make him more valuable to a Raptors team that doesn’t have great spacing and even less rim pressure. More valuable — and less able to experiment with different roles on offense.

Anunoby is also one of the NBA’s best defenders. His combination of footspeed, strength, movement, and size allows him to guard a multitude of NBA stars-from guards such as Bradley Beal to wings such as Khris Middleton, and he even spends time on big men such as Giannis Antetokounmpo or Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic. The Raptors ask everything of him, from stops on the perimeter pressuring small guards after switches to help-side protection of the rim. His versatility on defense allows the Raptors to run their switch-heavy scheme, and his defense also gets them some easy transition looks off of turnovers — he led the team in on/off differential for forced turnovers last season. 

One of the more intriguing things about OG this past season was his flashes of creation. In the early days of the season when Pascal Siakam was sidelined due to injury, OG stepped up offensively in a way that Raptors fans had been asking for for years. In the first 13 games of the season, he averaged 19.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game. The scoring was tied for team lead. He was creating for himself in many ways, including simple dribble drives and post ups, while still using the skills he already had. He also seemed to have shown up with an improved handle and some exciting dribble moves. Anunoby isn’t the fastest guy in the world, but he is able to get a lot of great rim looks by simply using his strength to overpower his defender. For example, if OG can’t get an angle to get past his defender on a drive and gets stifled at the free throw line, he simply turns around, gives them a couple bumps and rises over them; this bully ball method has worked very well for him, especially when he’s able to attack a rotating defense rather than a set one. As the season went on though, Pascal Siakam returned and took over many of the responsibilities that had been Anunoby’s. This quieted the OG progression to some degree. He still had good production for someone with a 20 percent usage rate, but injuries limited him as the season continued. 

The next step for OG is to become an improved mid-range shooter. Last year, he shot a poor 35 percent from the mid-range area, which was brought on by a multitude of issues. For one, the Toronto Raptors don’t have great spacing, which results in some clutter in the mid range. That was especially true for OG since he is one of the main spacers on the team — so when he attempts to make a play inside the arc defenders have one less shooting threat to worry about. Another reason is he doesn’t have a lot of reps with taking jumpers after multiple dribbles. Last year was his first chance to experiment in that field in real NBA games, and Siakam’s return limited his opportunity expand that area of his game.

OG is also a poor 3-point shooter after multiple dribbles. He is good at the one-dribble sidestep 3 after an out of control closeout because he still gets time to load up his normal catch-and-shoot motion. But when it comes to taking multiple dribbles and creating his own 3-point shot, there is a noticeable change in his form which can possibly explain the poor shooting splits from 3 after multiple dribbles. And outside of a few seasons with practically negligible pullup triple attempts, he’s never cracked the modest 30-percent barrier on pullup triples. A flaw in the roster construction coupled with a lack of reps over his career could be pointed to as a reason he struggles in these areas, and this can only improve with an uptick in usage.

There are reasons why he might get more opportunities to do so. Adding Otto Porter jr. as a floor spacer who doesn’t demand the ball should let Anunoby experiment with more on-ball creation, as the Raptors won’t need him to stand in the corner on every possession. Anunoby might be able to get more space in the mid range area if he digs his shoulder into his defender to create the separation rather than try to dribble his way into it. (Think Kawhi Leonard.) Shifting to that approach would require better balance, which would also help Anunoby as a driver and finisher. And he ought to have more space to work with anywhere as Toronto’s shooting improves.

There have been reports that OG isn’t happy with his role in the Raptors offense, and in his defense, what young talented player wouldn’t want a bigger role? Anunoby has clearly shown signs of shot-creation upside that is definitely worth exploring and I think with an uptick in usage, OG Anunoby will become a star. He hasn’t yet had an extended opportunity, even if he’s shown acorns of ability. There are reasons to believe this year he’ll finally get the touches to make it happen. 

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