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Player Review: OG Anunoby wasn’t even supposed to be here today, man

The Raptors standout rookie is ahead of where most projected him to be at this point, but how much more can he develop?

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Chicago Bulls Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, during pre-draft coverage, I remember discussing potential targets for the Raptors at pick no. 23. Semi Ojeleye and Jonah Bolden were names I loved — athletic wings who could defend and develop as shooters and maybe even play some small-ball four.

I remember also being asked about OG Anunoby. I was dismissive. Not of his talent, but of the Raptors chance at landing him.

Anunoby was a standout from Indiana who had suffered an ACL tear in January, a player that, if healthy, was certainly a lottery pick and might even have crept up into the top 10. Surely a team would take a chance on him before 23, I surmised. Not even really worth doing the deep research.

Then draft night rolled around, and lo and behold, Masai Ujiri lucked out, as 22 teams passed on Anunoby and he was able to snag him, right in front of his old Denver franchise, who reportedly had designs on nabbing OG with the 24th pick.

I was happy, but also confused. Was Anunoby’s injury really so bad? Why did so many teams pass on a guy who was supposed to be this good? Would he even play in 2017-18? Still, even if he missed the whole year, he was a talented project and well worth a home-run swing with a pick in the low-twenties, I reckoned.

That was the mentality heading into the season. OG Anunoby was supposed to be a project. He was not supposed to start 62 games. He was not supposed to be able to shoot the three, at least not this well, not yet. He was not supposed to be the primary defender on LeBron James in a playoff series, at least not in 2018.

But all of these things happened.

OG Anunoby, incumbent starter, is found money, to a degree. Now the major question becomes: is he pocket change or a fat wad of bills?

The Good

We’ve kind of already been over this but it bears repeating — early forecasts for Anunoby had him returning after Christmas or maybe even at the All-Star break. The fact that he was ready for the first game of the regular season and quickly usurped Norman Powell in the starting lineup was not only unexpected, it was extraordinary.

The fact that he did so while Powell suffered an injury is neither here nor there — he earned that starting spot with a combination of toughness, basketball IQ on offense, and active perimeter defense.

Anunoby had the second best net-rating (10.4) on the team among Raptors regulars, trailing only Fred VanVleet. And unlike VanVleet, who played with both the Bench Broskis and the starters at times, Anunoby mainly played with the sometimes defensively-challenged starting five. Yet he still somehow managed to post a defensive rating (102.2) that was nearly two full points lower than Kyle Lowry (104.1), the next closest Raptors starter. Couple that with the highest offensive rating of any player on the entire team (112.4) and it’s clear that the Raptors were at their very best when the rookie was on the floor.

Not to mention that he was a pretty good quote.

The Bad

“The Bad” sounds so harsh — let’s just call these things “Room for Improvement.”

Anunoby was a rookie after all, and far from perfect. He was often lauded for doing the little things that didn’t show up on the score sheet — rotating correctly, altering shots, pressuring the ball, making the extra pass — and if you watched him play, you definitely noticed these things.

With all that said, if he’s going to be an impact player and not just a really nice piece — a Kawhi Leonard vs. a Shane Battier — there are some clear areas for improvement for our guy OG. Totally unfair comparisons, but you get me. And if you don’t get me, why don’t you just go hang out with my dad! (Just kidding Dad, love you).

He has tremendous size and athleticism and it would be great if he used it to get on the glass with more regularity. Anyone who watched the Raptors in the playoffs understands they need all the help rebounding the ball that they can get — out of the 12 Raptors regulars this season, OG finished dead last in defensive rebound percentage.

His assist percentage (4.9) was similarly microscopic, besting only the black-hole known as Serge Ibaka.

Some of that is his role within the offense — OG basically either had to swing the ball or shoot a corner three most of the time — but the defensive rebounding in particular is something that needs to be improved.

His nice but somewhat pedestrian FG/3P/FT shooting line (47.1%/37.1%/62.9%) gets glossed over for a couple reasons — first is that the outside shooting was supposed to be a work-in-progress and was by the far the best part of his offensive repertoire.

The second is that he started the season shooting 41.5 percent from three in the 35 contests from the start of the season until the calendar flipped to 2018. In January and February, a 26 game stretch, he went ice-cold, hitting only 24.6 percent from deep, as he ran smack into the rookie wall.

However, in the 14 March and April games he played, he came storming back, dialling it up to 46.7 percent from beyond the arc and continued to rain triples into the post-season, shooting 44.8 percent in the playoffs.

This part is listed under ‘the bad’ because of that ice-cold stretch — if Anunoby can work towards eliminating lapses like that from his game and become a lights-out three point shooter consistently, his floor becomes that much more elevated.

The Grade: A

If you read his Draft Express profile from last year, both the passing, the toughness and the outside shooting were thought of as question marks to varying degrees, so to say that Anunoby overachieved is an understatement.

Despite the low-assist percentage, Anunoby showed good touch with the ball and even showed some creativity there as the season progressed. He needs to improve his overall ball-handling and his ability to create his own shot. Even though he’s big and strong, he still has zero semblance of a left-hand and his footwork needs improvement.

He had the lowest usage-percentage (12.4 percent) among Raptors regulars last year and that wasn’t because he’s a rookie. He simply doesn’t have the overall offensive game to warrant a larger role — yet.

With all that being said, the fact that Anunoby is as far along in his development — a physical defender, solid shooter and intangible-laden dynamo — is a huge win for a capped-out Raptors team that seemingly has very little ability to add talent this off-season.

The fact that he was left off this years NBA All-Rookie teams in favour of a guy like Bogdan Bogdanovich is indicative that most of the league doesn’t realize yet what a steal the Raptors got at pick 23.

That’s fine. Let them sleep.

His continued improvement is something Raptors fans will enjoy watching in the coming years — could he be Toronto’s Kawhi? It’s nice to dream but he doesn’t need to be.

He’s OG! That’s enough for now.