Welcome to “One Play!” Throughout the 2020-21 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.
As much as another loss stings – Toronto has now dropped 10 of its last 11 games – there were still some bright spots for the Raptors, one of them being the play of OG Anunoby. In 38 minutes, he scored 15 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out three assists, two of which came in the fourth quarter when the Raptors made one final push.
Anunoby was also everywhere defensively, particularly down the stretch.
You know what that means – to the film room!
Breakdown: Devin Booker brings the ball up after Fred VanVleet cuts Phoenix’s lead to two points with 36.2 second remaining in the fourth quarter.
VanVleet begins the possession on Booker, but Anunoby switches onto the two-time All-Star following a screen from Suns centre Deandre Ayton. Ayton quickly clears out, giving Booker the space to attack Anunoby one-on-one in the hopes of icing the game.
Booker is one of the league’s leading one-on-one scorers this season. According to NBA.com, he generates 12.6 percent of his offence in isolation and is scoring at a rate of 0.90 points per possession, ranking him in the 54th percentile. He was even better last season, ranking in the 68th percentile with an average of 0.95 points per isolation possession.
With Booker being a legitimate three-level scorer, Anunoby picks him up beyond the 3-point line.
Booker drives towards his right and stops on a dime just inside the elbow.
This is your reminder that Booker is lights out from midrange. Per NBA.com, he’s taken the ninth-most midrange shots in the league this season and has converted 49.7 percent of those opportunities. He’s basically as good as it gets from there. If he gets any sort of space, the defence is usually toast.
It looks like Booker might’ve lost Anunoby…
…but he fumbles the ball a little and Anunoby recovers at the blink of an eye.
Booker now has the ball at the elbow with 3.7 seconds remaining on the shot clock.
With Anunoby pressed up on him, Booker takes one dribble towards his right in an attempt to create some separation. He creates enough to get a shot off, but Anunoby is once again draped all over him.
Anunoby does his job in forcing a miss, but the Raptors aren’t able to secure the defensive rebound.
Why it matters: I touched on Anunoby’s defensive versatility last season, but he’s kicked it up a notch this season.
According to The BBall Index, Anunoby was the fourth-most versatile defender in the league in 2019-20, trailing only Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Adam Mokoka and Jaylen Hoard. (Mokoka and Hoard didn’t play much, logging a combined 215 minutes on the season, but Hollis-Jefferson was a part of Toronto’s eight-man rotation for much of the regular season). Two-thirds of the way through 2020-21, Anunoby has been the league’s second-most versatile defender, trailing only KZ Okpala, who has appeared in 25 games and is playing limited minutes.
Basically, if you add some loose minute filters, the data points to Anunoby being the second-most versatile defender in the NBA last season and the most versatile defender in the league this season. He legitimately guards all five positions, spending an estimated 20.5 percent of his minutes matched up with point guards, 17.7 percent matched up with shooting guards, 20.3 percent matched up with small forwards, 26.1 percent matched up with power forwards and 15.4 percent matched up with centres to this point of the season, per The BBall Index.
Some of that is by necessity with the centre position being a weakness for the Raptors, forcing them to play small more often than they probably envisioned coming into the season. However, Anunoby’s ability to hold his own against pretty much anyone is a big reason why going small is even a viable option. Centres can’t bully him in the post and he gives the Raptors the flexibility to switch every ball screen if they want.
Which brings us back to Toronto’s loss to Phoenix, in which Anunoby showcased his incredible defensive versatility a number of times down the final stretch.
Not long before the possession above, Anunoby blanketed Booker on another drive in isolation, once again forcing him into a tough shot that he missed.
Last but not least, Anunoby was Toronto’s primary defender on Ayton. While Ayton had himself a big game, finishing with 19 points and nine rebounds on 9-for-12 shooting from the field, he did the bulk of his damage when he wasn’t being defended by Anunoby.
Anunoby’s performance led to a glowing report from VanVleet after the game.
“I told y’all this before, the only person he can’t guard is me,” VanVleet responded when asked about Anunoby’s switchability.
“The guy is unbelievable. He’s been pretty consistent, playing at a high level for us all year. We’re going to need that, for OG to keep making steps and growing and being the player that everybody believes him to be and that he believes he can be. The sky is the limit. He’s going to be as good as he wants to be. We need him to keep doing it.
“It’s a great luxury to have a guy like that who can guard Jokic, Ayton, Booker, whoever, you name it. OG’s been great for us.”
Anunoby missed out on making an All-Defensive Team last season and might not play in enough games to get the votes he needs to make it this season, but what he did on Friday served as a reminder of what makes him one of the league’s most valuable defenders.
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