The Raptors are finally starting to find consistency with their new style of play, currently sitting third in the Eastern Conference with a respectable 15-7 record. Their recent success is not solely due to the DeMar & Kyle show — it’s been bolstered by a second unit resurgence and the surprising play of rookie OG Anunoby, the team’s newest padawan.
Prior to their recent run, the Raptors held a middling record of 5-4. A long west coast road trip didn’t help, but there were some unbearable losses, a couple of blown leads, and a failed comeback attempt or two. Just as things started to look bad, it got worse with the loss of an injured Norman Powell, the Raptors’ third year player on which much hope had already been placed.
Forced to replace Powell in the starting lineup, coach Dwane Casey experimented with the former Hoosier Anunoby in the starting rotation. Since then the Raptors have won eight of their last ten, including a statement win over the first place Western Conference Rockets in which OG dropped a career-high 16 points.
Originally slotted as an NBA lottery pick in 2017, OG quickly dropped on many draft boards after suffering an ACL injury in his sophomore year. When the Raptors picked him at 23, it was expected he wouldn’t be ready to play until December, or perhaps the new year. Instead, Anunoby is miraculously already making a name for himself among Raptors fans thanks to a speedy recovery. (And the rest of the league is wondering what they got wrong.)
The Star Wars reference is more than just a mere name similarity with Obi-Wan Kenobi, but rather an acknowledgement of the apparent superhuman abilities OG provides the Raptors. So far this season his athleticism doesn’t even look a tiny bit hindered — an impeccable recovery from an injury that has hampered many careers. As we’ve seen time and again, Anunoby continues to pester opposing teams with his defensive prowess while showing off some thunderous dunks.
Anunoby’s defensive potential has no apparent ceiling, with his ability to be a versatile combo forward that can guard almost any position on the court. That’s largely due to OG’s abnormal build — he’s a muscular 6’7” with a rangy 7’2’ wingspan, and he possesses tremendous foot speed to boot. These are strikingly similar numbers to current NBA stars Kawhi Leonard, a 6'6” defensive mastermind owning a 7'3” wingspan, and Draymond Green, listed at 6'7” with a 7'1” wingspan. Obviously, OG has yet to show the same craft on the offensive end as these two players, but the raw tools (and basketball IQ) appear to be there. At the very least we should keep this quote in mind from Warriors GM Bob Myers (as told to the Wall Street Journal): “The ideal player would be 6-foot-8, with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, and still be able to shoot.” (Sorry Raps fans, Myers isn’t hinting at Bruno Caboclo here.)
Although the Nigerian-Brit is still learning to find offensive consistency, he’s put up solid percentages in a small sample. Through 22 games, Anunoby is firing a 42 percent clip from beyond the arc and averaging 51 percent from the field. Of course, don’t mistake his season averages for a mediocre prospect. Yes, his 6.8 points, 2.0 rebounds and 0.9 assists so far aren’t exactly pretty. Just remember he’s still sharing the court with two All-Stars in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, and sharing minutes in a tight forward rotation including Powell, Pascal Siakam, and C.J. Miles. And that aforementioned surging bench unit? Not a weak bench by any means. They’ve been limiting opponents to 43 percent shooting from the field, while scoring 40.6 points per game on the other end of the floor.
Nevertheless, Anunoby is already earning respect from some of the most elite stars in the association. “I like OG Anunoby from Toronto. He plays hard, he can shoot it, he rebounds well,” said Kevin Durant during an online Q&A. “He’s gonna be really good in the future.”
The future is bright for the rook, and deservedly so. And Raps fans haven’t been this joyous over a draft pick since the selection of
Andrea Bargnani Jonas Valanciunas. So, on behalf of all Raptors fans, I think its fair to say Anunoby is a real OG.