3 Toronto Raptors Lessons: On Blocks, Dunks, and the skills of OG Anunoby

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There’s emotional roller coasters and then there’s emotional Top Thrill Dragsters.

That can only describe what we Toronto Raptors fans went through in the past week, going from the lowest low of the season, to comfortably the highest high. Though this season has been up-and-down throughout, it feels different now. The team’s recent success feels real. Now, if Toronto can just go ahead and beat the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight, they could finally get to .500 and we can really start getting excited.

With that said, let’s kick off 3 Lessons with the man whose return started this whole thing, OG Anunoby.

1) OG can turn the Florida Five from dangerous to lethal

In winning time against the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, OG Anunoby did this:

Incarcerated as I was in a maximum-security penitentiary known as “the moment,” I tweeted that it was the best thing OG has ever done on offense. I then took a step back, applied some rational thought, and remembered this:

I promptly deleted the Tweet, fearing that my embarrassing take would be exposed. Thankfully, when you have only 65 followers, there is some margin for error.

Nonetheless, that was a level of grace and control on offense that we had never seen from OG before. In the fourth quarter of last night’s game, OG opted for a little more brute force.

Aesthetically, it was, umm, less pleasing than Tuesday’s showing, with OG somewhat resembling a rhinoceros trying its hand at tap dancing. But the efficacy, however, was all there, as Anunoby earned a pivotal six points attacking the hoop for the Raptors with the Bucks threatening to come back on Thursday night. He got cute again, however, with this beauty.

This was the OG Anunoby we thought we might see to start the season. This was the OG that one might say is making The Leap. When I wrote about the Raptors’ new starting lineup yesterday (Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam), I claimed that everyone could defend (knowing that it wasn’t always true for Powell) and that everyone could create their own shot (knowing that it wasn’t always true for Anunoby). Maybe it is true now.

With that group, Anunoby will draw the weakest defender — perhaps an out of position big, or someone too small and weak for our stoic titan. If he can feast on that matchup, as he did against the Bucks, defending the Florida Five will be like swimming with sharks. If there is blood in the water in the form of a weak defender, they will sniff it out, and rip their victim to pieces.

2) Pascal Siakam is big game hunting

A few games ago, in a loss to the Boston Celtics, Pascal Siakam narrowly missed a dunk that would have sent Daniel Theis into NBA purgatory, eternally wandering with a soul that will never rest.

A couple games later, against the Milwaukee Bucks, he had a similarly explosive attempt that only just missed.

For a big, athletic player who has established himself as a star, Siakam has yet to have a defining highlight reel poster. Admittedly, his athleticism manifests more in speed and fluidity on the ground rather than verticality, but it’s not like the guy can’t dunk.

Does it really matter if Siakam never dunks an opponent into the core of the Earth? Not entirely, but special dunks do have an impact that goes beyond the two points they’re worth. Within a game, they can certainly be a boon to momentum, turning the tide or jamming the nail into the coffin of an opponent. They can also be a confidence boost to the individual. Siakam often benefits mentally from a few positive plays, so a highlight reel jam can certainly provide that.

It also adds to his footprint as a star in the NBA. The casual fan, both in Toronto and in the rest of the league, is sooner to recognize Pascal Siakam from a dunk than from consistent quality play.

Siakam is going to get that dunk soon with the mentality he is attacking with, and it is going to be awesome. Frankly, we’ll take all the awesome we can get right now.

3) Chris Boucher’s rim protection has taken on new meaning

Chris Boucher stuffs fools. We’ve always known that. With a G League Defensive Player of the Year award under his belt, his penchant for sending weak-ass shots back into oblivion has long been a defining characteristic of his basketball career. I was actually first notified of this tendency, and of Boucher in general, by my friend Mike Mullins all the way back in 2017. Mike’s older brother Grant played basketball for the California Golden Bears at the time. In a stunning instance of Canadian-on-Canadian crime, Boucher sent Mullins’ shot into another orbit.

Perhaps because of moments like this in his young career, Boucher has chased blocks at times to the detriment of his team. This season, he has harnessed that recklessness, while still maintaining a hint of zeal and preternatural timing to become a far more meaningful rim protector. That was on display in both games against Milwaukee.

He’s continued to be, quite comfortably, the best in the NBA at blocking three pointers, and he did so twice in Tuesday’s game. What was more notable, however, was his rim protection against Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Boucher was a stalwart defending one of the most dominant rim-attackers in the NBA. After racking up five blocks on Tuesday, Boucher didn’t record one last night. He did, however, play smart, positionally sound defense around the rim without fouling. In the process, he stonewalled the Freak multiple times in the series and was just another reason for a set of significant wins for the team.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the odd soul-crushing rejection. It speaks to Boucher’s development as a player and commitment to winning that he is now doing so much more than that.

That’s it for 3 Lessons this week! The quest to .500 continues.