OG Anunoby has become a certified basketball freak.
What he’s been able to do over the past few games has been incredible to watch. He’s been one of the league’s best, if not the best, defensive swiss army knives. He can switch with ease between bigs like Deandre Ayton to guards like Devin Booker and CJ McCollum.
Last Friday, he put the clamps on Booker in crunch time after spending the plurality of his defensive possessions holding Ayton to just four points in 19.08 partial possessions (5:17 minutes), per NBA Stats.
“Listen, he’s unbelievable,” Fred VanVleet said of Anunoby following that Friday night loss. “He’s been pretty consistent, playing at a high level for us all year, and 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. Sky’s the limit. He’s going to be as good as he wants to be, and 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.”
The questions about Anunoby’s future have never been about his defensive game. He’s already a bonafide superstar on that end of the court. But if Anunoby is going to take his game to another level, it’s going to come with some offensive development.
As Toronto’s season continues to sputter this year, it looks like the team is beginning to turn an eye toward the future. Over the past two games, Anunoby has seen his offensive workload go up a tick. It’s a small sample size, so it’s hard to read too much into things, but Raptors coach Nick Nurse said that an uptick in workload for Anunoby could be a possibility after the team traded away Norman Powell at last Thursday’s deadline.
In the first 44 games of the season, most of Anunoby’s touches were very quick. He’d get the ball and usually fire away a 3-pointer or drive downhill for a dunk whenever his defender was overly aggressive closing out. Back then, 68.6% of Anunoby’s shot attempts came within two seconds of touching the ball, 59.2% came without a dribble, and his average touch per possession was 2.10 seconds, per NBA Stats. Essentially, he was — and largely still is — a tertiary offensive player who plays on the margins and stretches the defence with his above-average 40.8% 3-point shooting.
Lately, however, that has begun to change.
In the two games since Toronto traded Powell and especially on Sunday night without Kyle Lowry in the lineup, the Raptors have begun asking for a little bit more from Anunoby. His average touch time has ticked up to 2.31 seconds per possession (2.45 on Monday) and he’s starting to play a little bit more off the dribble.
He’s taken 37% of his shots after at least two dribbles in the last two games, an increase of over 20% prior to the deadline, and 48.1% of his shots have come after at least two seconds with the ball, an increase of over 16%, per NBA Stats.
It hasn’t been all that impressive by any means. He’s shooting right around 40% on those shots and he’s had some fumbles and issues finishing at the rim from time to time, but that’s OK these days.
“He’s going to keep growing and expanding and obviously we would love to be letting him grow and expand while getting wins but this is the situation we are in,” VanVleet said.
One player that Anunoby can look at for inspiration is Pascal Siakam. It’s tough to replicate that kind of development curve and it’s unlikely Anunoby will ever get to the offensive heights that Siakam has reached. But back in 2017-18 when Siakam was in his age 23 season, his shot breakdown wasn’t too dissimilar from Anunoby’s. Back then 67.8% of Siakam’s shots came within two seconds of catching the ball and 61.3% came without a dribble, per NBA Stats. Those numbers are almost a mirror image of where Anunoby is at today.
Over time, however, Siakam’s game began to develop. Toronto shifted more and more of the offensive load onto him and slowly he began to work out some of the quirks in his game.
Late in the fourth quarter on Sunday night Anunoby had one of those learning experiences that Siakam has gotten used to. He received a pass from Siakam in perfect post-up position and with the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Damian Lillard guarding him. Knowing he had the advantage, Anunoby went to work backing down Lillard but just as he began his shimmy to score, Lillard collapsed to the floor and drew the offensive foul call.
“I think he’s learning,” Siakam said of Anunoby’s offensive development. “He makes some good plays down there [in the paint] on reads and passes but I just feel like, I mean he’s a strong dude and sometimes you just show that you can just get to the rim whenever you can, and when you have guards guarding [you] they, obviously, they want to use tricks and little things like trying to flop or whatever, reaching in and things like that.”
That should come with repetition. The more opportunities Anunoby has to play off the dribble and make decisions with the ball the better for Toronto going forward. It might mean a few more mistakes this season and it could cost the Raptors a win or two, but if it means Anunoby develops into a more well-rounded player, it’s a tradeoff worth making.