When OG Anunoby was drafted in 2017, his NBA comparisons ranged from Kevon Looney to Stacey Augmon. Beyond demonstrating why comparing teenagers to NBA players is a shot in the dark, and more useful to help filter prospects into archetypes than actually provide a career projection, the fact that OG has accomplished more than either of those two players through his first four years in the league after being selected 23rd overall speaks to how far he has already come.
Even after flourishing from a one-way player who earned spot minutes in the rotation into a two-way wing who can do just about everything, he’s still being pegged as a favourite to win Most Improved Player honours. What’s in the water that the Raptors have these guys drinking?
Unlike a lot of young prospects who blossom into stars, OG’s career path has been anything but linear. He’s battled through injuries, the death of his father prior to the 2018-2019 season, and even an emergency appendectomy right before the championship playoff run. With all of that turbulence and trauma finally in his past, he can look to focus on expanding all of the great things that he’s done on the court over these past two years.
Before getting into what OG needs to add to his game in order to insert himself into the conversation for MIP next year, let’s look at how far he’s already come. In college, Anunoby was a freak athlete with thighs that resembled tree trunks, but his only basketball skills were playing defense and knocking down open shots. In his sophomore season at Indiana, he shot the long ball at a 31.1% clip. After four years within the Raptors development system, he’s coming off a season in which he knocked down nearly 40% of his 6.1 attempts per game. That blistering shooting was good enough to rank him 45th in the entire NBA in three-pointers made, and 12th among all small-forwards (six of whom would be classified as three-point specialists).
In addition to the strides that OG has made in the shooting department, he has also blossomed into the #1 most versatile defender in the NBA. According to Bball Index, Anunoby spent at least 15% of his time on the court guarding each position. He simultaneously ranked in the 94th percentile in isolation defense, giving up just 0.61 points per possession. Marrying those two measures, you are left with a top few defender in the world. His broad 6’7 frame and long 7’3 wingspan, combined with his elite lateral quickness, good reaction time, great understanding of how to run complicated defensive schemes (as Nick Nurse often does), and lean 232-pound body, there aren’t many – if any – players more equipped to anchor a modern NBA defense than OG.
Most impressive however, is the offense that OG has added to his game. It’s a broad statement – I’m well-aware – but as opposed to keying in on one aspect of his game and working to enhance it, Anunoby has slowly built up his general offensive arsenal to the point where he is on the cusp of becoming a legitimate second option on a playoff team if he can keep up his upward trajectory.
Anunoby’s handle has always been weak, but it has always been an aspect of his game that he’s worked diligently on. Through OG’s first couple seasons in the league, he had no way of scoring at the rim unless he was catching the ball off a cut, snaring an offensive rebound, or attacking an aggressive closeout. Any time he tried to handle the ball on the perimeter, it would get poked loose, or he would take one dribble into his defender and be forced to pick up the ball. In the 2019-2020 season prior to the COVID shutdown, OG led the league with a 43.8% turnover frequency.
After coming to Disney World, OG began to show some flashes of a functional handle. He appeared to be more comfortable with the ball in his hands, demonstrating the ability to run a fast break, facilitate a dribble-hand-off, and even take taller defenders off the bounce they guarded him on the perimeter. After a full season outside the bubble, we got to see that OG’s evolutions were not a fluke. He continued to increase his scoring output while maintaining an effective field goal percentage of 58%, and on top of that, 29.7% of his field goals made were unassisted – a far cry from his rookie season, in which only 18.4% of his made shots were self-created.
With smaller defenders on him, OG was able to dominate in the post, as we can see here with the 6’4 Landry Shamet on his back. A lot of the time on his post-ups, OG prefers to spin over his left shoulder and go up with a right-handed hook, which Shamet anticipates, so he overplays OG’s inside shoulder. OG notices that, drops his right foot to get inside positioning under the basket, and draws a foul.
With bigger defenders guarding him on the perimeter, OG uses his quickness to get to the rim, which is illustrated below where OG victimizes Domantas Sabonis. When Sabonis comes up and pressures him, OG doesn’t panic. He gives the all-star a left-to-right crossover and drives all the way to the basket to finish the layup.
He even began to develop a sense of where the help defense was coming from, or when his defender was reaching, and much like Siakam, OG would rely on a spin move to twirl his way to the cup. On the play below, he sees that JaVale McGee is starting to shuffle over to protect the rim on his inside drive, so he spins baseline and quickly gets the shot up with his left hand to finish the play.
There was even the odd instance where OG would attempt a healthy step-back or pull-up three. In the clip below, Jaylen Brown – one of the premier wing defenders in the NBA – comes up to pressure Anunoby, and unlike the OG of old times, he reacts quickly with a change of direction, gives brown a bump to create some space, and then comfortably steps into a pull-up jumper.
A lot of OG’s offense still looks a little bit wonky, and most of that can be attributed to him needing to clean up his footwork, avoid dribbling into traffic, and tighten his handle even further.
Aside from continuing the trajectory that he is currently on, the next thing for OG to add to his game will be some mid-range scoring ability. Although the mid-range shot has been outlawed by statisticians and modern basketball gurus, it remains an important shot for elite scorers to be able to make, and if OG is going to take that leap from being a star to being a superstar, he will need to establish a more stable in-between game. Last season, OG made 65.4% of his looks within five feet of the rim and 39.5% of his shots outside of twenty feet, however in the six-to-nineteen foot range, he shot a sore 29.2% on 65 attempts.
And there lies the gold. OG is already a top-five defender in the NBA, regardless of what the accolades say. He is among the best shooters at his position who is actually capable of playing both sides of the ball. He makes nearly two thirds of his shots at the rim, which is comparable to the most efficient seven-footers in the NBA (Joel Embiid shot 67.2% within five feet of the basket last season), and he has shown the ability to create his own shot in isolation, although as aforementioned, it’s something that he’ll need to start doing even more of.
The days of dreaming about Anunoby becoming an All-Star are gone. The days of expecting it – be it this season, or the next – have arrived. If he is able to clean up his handle just a little bit more and find either a floater or a mid-range pull-up that he’s comfortable with, the only thing stopping OG from becoming a legitimate NBA superstar will be a tad of playmaking ability. Nonetheless, the Raptors future is bright. Scottie Barnes will have his time eventually, but for the 2021-2022 season, everyone should have their eyes on OG Anunoby.