The Toronto Raptors may have caught a break when they landed OG Anunoby with the 23rd overall pick in this past summer's NBA draft. The Jefferson City, Mo., native was a projected lottery pick until tearing his ACL last January. In fact, Anunoby believes he could've been a top five pick if it wasn't for his setback and it's easy to see why.
Standing six-foot-eight and armed with a seven-foot-two wingspan, Anunoby has the unique combination of lateral quickness and length to immediately become a disruptive force on the defensive end alone.
"I think he's very valuable just for the fact that he can come in and be a really tall, long versatile defender," said ESPN draft guru Jay Bilas on a conference call before the draft.
During his short time at Indiana, Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean trusted Anunoby with guarding some of the nation's top guards, including Canadian and Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray and last year's national player of the year Frank Mason III.
With today's NBA game shifting towards smaller, more versatile lineups, the 20-year-old could provide Raptors head coach Dwane Casey with such much-needed flexibility.
"He can guard one through five, easily. He's a P.J. Tucker clone, practically. That's something that gives us some toughness and ability to switch things defensively. His size and strength and athleticism is a huge plus for us," Casey told The Canadian Press.
Despite being a rookie, Anunoby should get plenty of opportunity to prove himself. With CJ Miles entrenched as the starting small forward, he's technically only behind Bruno Caboclo and that's not saying much. But depending on how training camp resolves itself and how much longer Anunoby continues to be sidelined, Anunoby could receive some competition from shooting guard/small forward K.J. McDaniels and forward Alfonzo McKinnie.
In 2014, McDaniels was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in his final season of collegiate basketball but has been not lived up to that billing in three NBA seasons on as many teams. McKinnie spent last season with the Chicago Bulls' G-League affiliate averaging nearly 15 points a contest and 9.2 rebounds in 50 games played en route to being named an all-star. But each player isn't a legitimate outside threat. McDaniels is a career 29 per cent shooter from downtown, McKinnie shot a hair above 30 per cent, and Anunoby 36.5 per cent in just 50 career games at Indiana.
With the Raptors intending to be a more three-point shooting oriented team, it will be tough to keep any of the three on the floor for extended periods if they're unable to space the floor and keep opposing defences honest.
The Raptors are betting on Anunoby to add the three-point shot to his arsenal of skills. In his freshman season, Anunoby connected on nearly 45 per cent of his shots from long distance albeit it was just 29 attempts. The jury is still out but there's reason to believe Anunoby can develop into a better shooter with more games played.
Overall as a whole, Anunoby is raw offensively but it's not to say that there's nothing there. He can run the floor in transition and has the quickness to blow by defenders and finish above the rim.
However, his jump shot requires time and space due to its slow and low release. In the college game, you might be able to get away with that but not in the NBA. What's more troublesome is that one of his biggest offensive strengths may be used against him. A big part of Anunoby's game is attacking the net off the bounce. But as a career 52 per cent free throw shooter, opposing teams will either invite the rookie to beat them with his jump shot or simply give a hard foul if Anunoby gets into the paint to force him to earn his points at the charity stripe.
The Raptors will soon have an idea of what they have to work with as Anunoby's return nears. He's a month ahead of his rehab schedule and played 16 minutes in last week's intrasquad scrimmage. But coming off a serious injury, the Raptors will surely exercise caution and Anunoby will need some time to properly condition himself into game shape before receiving some minutes in the rotation.
The best case scenario for Anunoby sees himself sliding seamlessly into the team's lineup and acting as the de facto defensive stopper in late-game situations as Tucker did a year ago.
A more realistic scenario sees Anunoby playing a stable bench role providing some rebounding, energy, and hustle that Torontonians have come to love with all their athletes.
But it's not out of the question to see Anunoby riding the pine for most of the season playing sparingly in garbage time. Coming back from an ACL injury is no joke and can take more than a year after returning to action to truly feel yourself again. If Anunoby is unable to improve his jump shooting mechanics, it will be hard to see Casey giving him time on the court, especially with the team in "win now" mode.