Raptors Cage

The Overlooked Improvement of OG Anunoby

Coming into this season, many had expected OG Anunoby to make some serious jumps as a player. Given the opportunity to learn alongside a talent many had likened him to in Kawhi Leonard, the thought of a match made in heaven became a reality. He would make a switch to the power forward position to play frontcourt with the two-time defensive player of the year winner.

It was destined to be a thing of beauty. On offense, Anunoby would stretch the floor while Kawhi’s isolation would thrive, and on defense, they would raise Hell for anyone and any team. The coaching switch from Dwane Casey to Nick Nurse was one that would, in theory, benefit the younger players such as OG too, seeing that he was more modern and creative, to say the least.

Now, considering that we are about to start off the most meaningful postseason in franchise history, I think it’s safe to say that things didn’t turn out as expected. Pascal is the one who you could say fulfilled Anunoby’s 2018-2019 season destiny and did even better than what we expected from OG too. He became the elite defensive player, and not only is he capable of stretching the floor now but his skillset is now one that allows him to do virtually anything on offense, far more than one could’ve ever asked for or imagined. OG, on the other hand, has disappointed many. His shooting from deep and the charity stripe has taken some big hits and for the most part, fans seem to have not witnessed any changes in the rest of his game.

Although OG had dealt with a wrist sprain earlier on, concussion-like symptoms near the end of the season, and the death of his dad throughout most of the season, there hasn’t been as much praise for him as there was leading up to this past October. Not even close. With that being said, he has been a bit of an afterthought this season when you consider how everyone talks about our roster from Kyle Lowry to Norman Powell.

As a matter of fact, over the past few months he has become one of the more criticized players on this team from my perspective, and while some of said criticism is fair, what I find to be an injustice is how blind people have been to the improvements he has made and displayed right in front of their very eyes.

This season, OG Anunoby how undergone the transformation from a mere catch-and-shoot player on offense to someone who can create his own opportunities. This is something I had been following all season long, and when the 82-game campaign was coming to a close I decided to look at his final stats, and what I saw surprised me more than I thought it would, having to do with OG in isolation. Last season, we’d seen the former 23rd-overall-pick attempt a grand total of 0 isos, unless you wish to count the ones he executed in the playoffs. This year’s OG has been much different.

This season that has increased to 22, and while that may not appear to be a notable number, I would like to assure you that it’s a relatively solid number in comparison to his peers and a very large improvement from his rookie season. Regardless, what’s even more impressive about this is that OG is actually good at it. He is successful in successfully executing 50% of these plays, which is a good amount when you are to look at everyone in that range of attempts.

Part of this is a result of Nurse’s “freedom to the players” coaching style that caters to everyone’s strengths, and he and the team giving him far more chances than he had received in the past. This year compared to last, the team has granted him with 267 more touches which he has been making the most out of.

Not only is he holding onto the ball for 0.10 seconds more than we initially saw, but we have been a near 22% decrease in the number of his assisted shots inside the arc, and what makes this even more intriguing is that there was a 0.069% decrease in the percentage of his shots that came from deep leading to that very same number being the increase in two-pointers for him.

These are considerably big numbers for any player, and this is a jump we should commend OG for, especially since he has actually made improvements shooting mid-rangers opposed to the opposite.

0.006% decrease in 0-3 feet FG% (-.006 FGA%)
0.038% increase in 3-10 feet FG% (+.060 FGA%)
0.133% increase in 10-16 feet FG% (+.008 FGA%)
0.444% increase in 16-3 point range FG% (+.008 FGA%)

The numbers above represent how much better his shooting has gotten from a certain range from the baskets (while the numbers in brackets indicate changes in the percentage of field goals from each distance). As you can see, aside from shots right near the basket, he has increased the number of attempts all around the floor and has been making them at a higher rate than ever before.

Now, of course, quite a lot of these shots come in the half-court offense, and while that is an important part of the game that OG has been increasing his ability with, Toronto is elite teak in transition scoring and I have reason to believe he has played a bigger role in that than many may think.

Coming into the league this attribute of his game was one that scouts viewed as promising, thanks to his body-type and explosive athleticism, but it just didn’t show too much in his rookie year where he scored 104 points on 50% in 100 transition possessions and 80 field goal attempts. This season, however, was a different story as he was able to score 140 points on 65.1% shooting. At first thought, I expect the reader to wonder “well, how many more shots and possessions did he have in transition?”

Well, what initially blew me away was that in comparison to last, this season he only attempted 6 more shots in 2 more possessions. Such a large increase in a minimal amount of increased chances. And what made it all the more impressive? In transition, his turnover frequency decreased by 4.2% meaning he is being more cautious with the ball, while his free-throw frequency (+1.7%) and and-one frequency (+1.9%) have increased too which essentially means he has become better and more willing at fighting through contact.
As aforementioned, Toronto does have an elite transition offense and while I don’t doubt that had played a role in Anunoby’s strides forward in this department, and I feel that can be said for a lot of the aforementioned and to-come claims of his improvement here today.

However, what he has done this season has been very impressive. Many of the numbers are big enough and what I have seen on screen just confirms for me that there is definitely some credit to be sent his way. Speaking of that, I have compiled a few plays from this season that show a bit of this “new OG” I’m talking about here that I would like to go over.

In the play above we see the 2017 first-round pick doing something more prototypical of teammate Pascal Siakam. He is furiously pounding the rock down the court, and he eventually kicks the energy up a notch when he decides to drive straight down the lane. What does he do next?
He hits 76ers rookie, Jonah Bolden, with a spin move and successfully lays the ball in with his weak-hand. What impresses me here is his willingness to be the main ball-handler on the play (something that works out well), his ability to make a play (especially for himself), and the exceptional execution of the effective spin move to render Bolden helpless.

This time around we see the former Hosier receiving a pass in the right corner (if you were to face the basket) from point guard Fred VanVleet. Seeing he has Kevin Knox on him, a horrendous two-way rookie for the Knicks, he recognizes he can exploit him a little here which is exactly what he does.

He takes a step forward, looks Knox dead in the eye, handles the ball a little, rotates, bumps into him with his right shoulder and begins to push into him to create space and get closer to the net to push the ball in. What I like he is the aggression and recognition of a weaker defender, as well as how well he runs this play doing everything right.

Here, OG gives off the impression he is spotting up to take a deep shot which catches his man off guard. Realizing this, he doesn’t shoot a three but attacks the rim deciding the spotty defense of Alex Len is something he is willing to challenge. So, he goes up with strength, confidence, athleticism, and a seemingly calculated mindset and while he does miss the attempt, he is able to draw a foul.

Like the last play(s), this involves recognition, aggression, and execution. Now, Anunoby’s rookie season wasn’t absolutely devoid of these traits and types of plays, but they were rare. This season he plays in the 3 GIFs shown are far more common, but also more polished in many ways as he is simply better and more confident it seems.
Now, with that last GIF, I included Anunoby shooting the free-throws for a reason: he makes them. Both of them. For most players, this isn’t a big deal considering the league average this season is .766% and the all-time low was .641% when the league was still known as the BAA, but this has always been a weakness for young OG. Coming out of college scouts were concerned about this, last season he shot a sub-par .629%, and an even worse .581% this season.
However, that number is heavily brought down by the first half of the season, as he is shooting .851% since the all-star break. He has improved over 50% compared to the season prior to the break considering he was shooting .333% and over 20% compared to last season.

These are amazing and commendable strides, and although they aren’t season-long and it could be dubbed as a “small sample size, ” this isn’t something you come along every day. Not only is it great to be an average at least shooter from the stripe, but considering Anunoby is making himself more susceptible to fouls than he once was, this skill is even more important for him than it once was.

Now, of course, his shooting didn’t make that much of a change. It was inconsistent all season long and it was usually on the below-average side of things. Although he was a player that defenses couldn’t and wouldn’t leave open, him shooting better would have been great. What I find interesting is he makes the same amount of deep shots per game as he did last season, but has to attempt 0.3 more in order to do that.
This drops his 3 point percentage and true shooting numbers bigtime and as a result, make him look worse than he is. In terms of defense, rebounding, hustling, I think most can agree he has stayed just as good or even slightly better in some of those categories, but those improvements aren’t as big or notable as what we’ve discussed up to this point.

All-in-all, OG Anunoby has made some undeniable improvements this season. Of course, they may not have been as big as many had hoped for, but they are improvements we must consider regardless.

He is a much more skilled and capable player on offense these days and we should commend him got his newfound abilities opposed to saying he hasn’t improved at all, a claim I have seen before. Looking towards the future these skills make OG an even more promising prospect than he was heading into the last offseason, and for that, I feel like there should still be a feeling of excitement, optimism, and general positivity surrounding his name in the air.

Hopefully, the sophomore is able to recover well from his acute appendicitis and everyone can truly see how he has improved.


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