The Toronto Raptors have struggled to begin this season. However, the solution to their offensive woes may actually already be on the roster.
Thanks to a 107-102 victory Sunday afternoon against the Indiana Pacers, the Toronto Raptors improved their record to 7-9 before falling to Nate Bjorkgren the following night. Going into a slump on offense will sting even more than usual this year, as it is a shortened season of only 72 games, with more than a fifth of the season already complete.
At the Raptors’ current pace, the team is on pace to win just 30 games this season. Compared to the previous five seasons in which they produced 50 wins or more each season, this year could be incredibly disappointing.
A large part of the problem is the Raptors’ offense. It is devoid of any post presence, yet their offensive philosophy is to space and stretch the floor, leaving the post and the paint open and begging for activity.
According to teamrankings.com, Toronto ranks 28th in the NBA, scoring just 39.8 points in the paint. It also explains why the team is 23rd in the league at free-throw attempts. In comparison, the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers are ninth and 15th in each category.
There is a simple answer for Toronto. Head coach Nick Nurse needs to unleash OG Anunoby.
OG Anunoby needs to be aggressive in the Toronto Raptors’ offensive sets.
Anunoby has the skills needed to regularly get to the basket and create a bunch of extra attempts at the foul line that could benefit Toronto. On Sunday, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam did not play, but Anunoby dominated the game. He was an efficient 9-16 from the field, 4-6 on three-point attempts, and 8-10 from the free-throw line. While this was a sign that he is capable of getting it done on offense, he needs to show this more consistent;y.
Anunoby averages 10.8 shot attempts per game. That number needs to be higher, around 15 per game could be ideal. His efficiency is 48.5 percent from the field on the season, so he is an excellent shooter and finisher at the rim. Those gifts simply need to be utilized more often.
Furthermore, his ability to move without the ball, drive to the basket, finish above the rim needs to be utilized more by Nick Nurse and the coaching staff.
While the three-point shot represents 48 percent of the team’s shot attempts per game, outscoring your opponent is mandatory to win, at the risk of sounding trite. Despite the fact that dunks, layups, and shot attempts around the basket leading to free-throws are all high efficient shot attempts, the Raptors seem almost allergic to taking them.
At the moment, Anunoby is fifth on the team in free-throw attempts and eighth in free-throw percentage at 74.5. Part of the reason Anunoby hasn’t taken a bigger offensive role is that he has a laid-back style of play, which helps him appear very relaxed on the court, often content with passing the ball and letting the play come to him. This has to change for the Raptors to be successful, meaning that Nurse has to light a fire under him and reawaken that beast who befuddled Boston in the postseason last year.
When OG Anunoby plays a big role, the Toronto Raptors win
Several games illustrate the fact that when Anunoby plays a big role, the Raptors win.
One classic example is the opening seeding game in the Florida bubble last season against the Los Angeles Lakers. He was the primary defender on LeBron James, holding him to 20 points. However, Anunoby’s offensive role was impactful in a 107-92 victory. He made eight of his nine shots from the field, hitting all three of his three-pointers.
In a 101-81 win against the Miami Heat this season, Anunoby was 8-12 with five three-pointers for 21 points, and he was a +22 for the game. Sunday vs. the Pacers, Anunoby had 30 points on an array of jumpers, drives, three-throws, and three-pointers, showing that he has a very refined offensive game.
If he can elevate his play consistently, it can take the pressure off of Pascal Siakam, who will face less defensive attention. Anunoby had upped his scoring this season to 14.9 points per game from around 10.6 last season, but Anunoby always leaves you wanting more. Hopefully, this is the year he finally becomes an elite scorer.
Anunoby wants to take a bigger offensive role for the Toronto Raptors
When this season began, the Raptors were missing 18.5 shot attempts the departed Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol normally would take. This would mean extra opportunities for players like Anunoby, if he is willing to grab the bull by the horns.
In 2020, he was averaging 8.2 shot attempts per game. So far this season, he has increased that number to 10.6 per game. He’s too good a shooter and an overall basketball player not to be involved in the offense more.
For his part, Anunoby himself wants to play a bigger role in the Raptors’ offense. He stated in an interview published in an article by sportsnet.com that he is trying to take it to opposing defenses with regularity.
“Just being more aggressive, looking for my own shot, looking to get other people involved. Just trying to do more.”
The results are good to this point. He is averaging nearly 15 points a game this season and 17.5 per game over the last seven, of which Toronto has won five. Anunoby’s hypothetical rise offensively will positively affect the Raptors’ progress this season, as they try to climb their way back up the Eastern Conference’s standings.