When OG Anunoby first began drawing interest from NBA scouts prior to the 2017 Draft the comparison that kept popping up for him was Kawhi Leonard. At the time, Leonard had become one of the league’s premier defenders and was beginning to break out into the offensive star he’s become today. It was high praise for the 19-year-old Indiana sophomore, but not necessarily a comparison to scoff at.
At the time, Anunoby was a 6-foot-7, 215-pound wing with very much the same physique as the 6-foot-7, 225-pound Leonard. They both were defence-first prospects with offensive upside yet to be fully realized.
When the draft finally rolled around and Anunoby fell due to concerns about his season-ending knee injury, the Toronto Raptors pounced, selecting arguably the steal of the draft at 23rd overall.
Two years later when Leonard landed in Toronto in the summer of 2018, the master met the apprentice.
It’s never been entirely fair to compare Anunoby to Leonard. While they do resemble one another both physically and as prospects, the developmental trajectory of someone like Leonard is extremely rare. Except, seemingly, in Toronto.
Right now, at 23 years old, Anunoby is already one of the league’s premier 3-and-D players. Night after night he’s asked to take on the opposing team’s best player and he does it admirably no matter the size or skill of the superstar he’s defending. Just look at some of the names he’s spent the most time guarding this year: Julius Randle, DeMar DeRozan, Ben Simmons, Zion Williamson, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Brandon Ingram, Luka Doncic, Duncan Robinson, and plenty more all-star level players of all shapes and sizes.
“He’s kind of a little bit unique that way because he guards all positions,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I think he would tell you he is better on the perimeter. He really thinks he can bother guys on the perimeter more. That’s what he feels — you kind of see him get those steals, see him chase and almost get guys back on their heels and push, that kind of stuff.”
That kind of defence alone is valuable. Just knowing night after night that you have a player who can match up against the opponent’s best scorer and hold his own is a huge advantage for Toronto. But suddenly, there appears to be a little bit more to Anunoby than just defence.
After starting the season ice cold, shooting 27.5% from behind the arc through the Raptors’ first nine games, Anunoby said he got back into the gym to work on his shooting. He worked over and over again on his form, first taking shots close to the basket and then incrementally moving back while repeating his stroke.
Since returning from Toronto’s West Coast road trip, Anunoby is shooting over 60% from 3-point range while averaging nearly 3.5 3-pointer per game. He now sits at 43.3% from behind the arc on the season, the 13th best in the NBA for players attempting at least five 3s a game.
But wait… there’s more.
On Sunday night against the Indian Pacers, Anunoby was asked to take on a bigger share of the offensive load with Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry out. His 16.3% usage rate for the season jumped all the way to 25.8%, the highest of the year so far. He didn’t just respond to the added work, he thrived, while totally reshaping his offensive game. Instead of being a catch-and-shoot 3-point specialist, Anunoby showed off some off-the-dribble skills. He took eight of his 16 shots off of three or more dribbles that night, per NBA Stats, connecting on half of them. Additionally, four of his nine field goals were off unassisted looks, according to NBA Stats.
“I think the biggest improvement for him offensively has been the kinda in-between stuff,” Fred VanVleet said after the game. “He’s always been a good spot-up shooter, obviously always been great defensively, dunking the ball, but some of those in-between shots over contact in traffic, they’re going in now and it doesn’t really look super pretty but he’s finding a way to get it in.”
The line to stardom is never linear. It comes with plenty of ups and downs, but the hope is that eventually as the workload increases so to will the consistency.
What Anunoby does right now is incredibly valuable. Just as Pacers guard Justin Holiday said, it’s not every day you find a guy who can contribute at both ends as Anunoby can. But if he can begin to repeat what he showed on Sunday, the Raptors might have struck gold again.