Raptors Cage

OG Anunoby is in for another year of growth

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If OG Anunoby were a stock right now, he would be trading at a premium, with no expectation that his growth is in some sort of bubble bound to eventually pop. In less financial terms, the 23-year old combo forward is shaping his trajectory to become a star in the NBA. Anunoby’s young career is on the upswing, and there is nothing stopping him from taking another gargantuous leap this season.

From the time that Anunoby was a rookie, it wasn’t hard to tell that he would be a special basketball player. When he was drafted, the league was only beginning to realize its fetish for elite 3-and-D players, and Anunoby was a guy who fit the modern mold unlike many others.

What was even more to behold however, was that Anunoby oozed confidence during an era when the Raptors were lacking any swagger whatsoever. Year after year, Toronto would crumble in the spotlight of The Playoffs, and would fall flat at the feet of LeBron James. OG wasn’t afraid of anybody though. He exudes very few emotions when he’s playing basketball – none of which are fear. His cool aura became known to all after he walked off the court with a stone face proceeding his game-winning buzzer beater over the Boston Celtics, and later uttering the legendary words, “I don’t shoot trying to miss.”

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Even as a 20-year-old, OG’s calm demeanor was evident. One wouldn’t have to look any further than his game-tying basket against the Cleveland Cavaliers in a must-win game from the 2018 playoffs – a shot that most rookies would be afraid to take. His size, quickness, and strength already placed him in the upper echelons of athletes in the NBA, despite the fact that he was still recovering from a torn ACL. Atop of all that, Anunoby was already the best defender on a contending team. At a mere 20-years-old, he took on the dreadful task of guarding LeBron in isolation, and although admitting defeat, it was a loss which he would not concede easily.

Despite not earning his spot in the starting lineup until Norman Powell went down with an injury, bit wouldn’t take long for Anunoby to catch the attention of his peers. In an Instagram Live video from November, 2017 – just over a month into Anunoby’s rookie season – Kevin Durant was asked by a fan which rookies were impressing him the most. Without hesitation, he applauded the Raptors young stud.

“I like OG Anunoby from Toronto. He plays hard, he can shoot it, he rebounds well,” Durant said. “He’s gonna be really good in the future.”

It was comments like these, in addition to OG’s breakout second-round series against Cleveland that got Raptors fans believing he was the steal of the draft. The most optimistic people would even begin making comparisons between Anunoby and Kawhi Leonard, due to their similar rookie stat lines, and the fact that they were both coming into the NBA known primarily as defensive stoppers.

Hopes that OG could emulate some of Kawhi’s greatness were only elevated when the Raptors unexpectedly swung for the fences and made a blockbuster trade that landed Leonard in Toronto, right next to Anunoby.

Leonard – being someone who was not drafted with the expectation that he would blossom into a star; who spent the early years of his career playing in the shadows of far more accomplished players; who pretty much developed his offensive game from scratch when he landed in San Antonio; and who thrived in a very disciplined and renowned organization with the Spurs – offered a prime precedent for OG to follow. Rather than studying Kawhi from afar, OG now had the pleasure of being able to train with him every single day, and soak in all of his mentorship.

OG Anunoby Kawhi Leonard
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Unfortunately, any possibility of Anunoby taking a big leap in his sophomore season was crushed when he was forced to miss some time due to unforeseen circumstances. Right as the 2018-2019 season was about to kick-off, OG was dealing with the loss of his father. Shortly after returning to the team, he would be bothered by lingering injuries. Being in and out of the lineup so much, he was never able catch up to his teammates’ speed or re-discover a consistent role in the Raptors rotation until later on in the season.

Looking ahead to The Playoffs, Anunoby was thought of as an important cog in Toronto’s defensive schemes. Playing him in the frontcourt along with the likes of Leonard and Pascal Siakam would make it easy for the Raptors to switch coverages, and create a tantalizing defensive matchup for any opponent they ran into. They say that bad luck comes in doses though, and they are absolutely correct.

Just a day before the Raptors first-round series was slated to begin, Anunoby was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. He would miss the entirety of Toronto’s championship run, and that was it for his second season. Though not a storybook year by any means, and experiencing more downs than ups, OG still possessed a ton of intriguing potential if he could get back on the right path.

And that he did. With the departure of Kawhi Leonard, OG re-gained his starting spot. He was able to stay healthy for the entirety of the 2019-2020 season when that was an anomaly for any Raptor, and he posted averages of 10.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game – all of which were career highs. He went back to being the pinnacle of the Raptors defense, guarding opposing teams’ most talented scorers, and earned a name for himself as one of the best isolation defenders in the league.

On the offensive side of the ball, he began to show some exciting developments as well. Rather than only spotting up and shooting from deep, or cutting to the basket for easy dunks, OG flashed his ability to put the ball on the deck and create for himself. If he can continue to tighten his handle and work on his mid-range and post game, Anunoby will be an alluring two-way player, and could even fit in as the fourth scoring option on this year’s Raptors squad.

With two more members of the Raptors championship team heading for Hollywood this offseason, OG should be expected to take on an even greater role this year. With the Raptors lacking a true backup power forward, he could also see his minutes increased at the four spot, where he should have a quickness advantage over almost all of his matchups. As the youngest non-rookie on the Raptors squad, he will surely be a focal point of Toronto’s development system this year, and possibly, a contender for Most Improved Player of the Year. Online casinos have him pegged as one of their favourites to win the hardware right now. The OG Anunoby bandwagon is filling up, so hop on soon if you still want to be a part of his unparalleled success story.

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