One of the stories I am most excited to follow this NBA season is the potential rise of the Toronto Raptors’ OG Anunoby. Throughout his first two years in the league he has frequently shown flashes of huge potential on both ends of the court. This will be his third NBA season, off the back of a season cut short by an untimely appendectomy that ruled him out of the playoffs. With some promising pre-season performances and the departure of Kawhi, OG has the opportunity to make big contributions at the starting number three spot. Instead analysing his box score and quantitative efficiency, I’ll be highlighting positive developments in his game by zooming in on one passage of play and breaking it down.
There was a lot of emotion for the Raptors’ players throughout the ring and banner ceremony on opening night at Scotiabank arena. In a pre-season interview with Yahoo Sports Canada, OG was asked what he took away from playing a season with Kawhi Leonard. OG explained that Kawhi’s demeanour on and off the court was something he admired. Whether OG is actively trying to emulate this or not, he looked calm and ready to play from the opening whistle despite the intense atmosphere.
Fast forward to the second minute of the second quarter. Lowry brings the ball up the court after a defensive rebound. He finds OG on the left wing three-point line, slightly ahead of his defender Jahlil Okafor. By the time Okafor squares up, OG is in a balanced shooting stance. Instead of shaping to shoot the three and driving to the basket, something he has done a lot in the past, he puts the ball on the floor. He crosses to the left and drives at the body of Okafor across the baseline. The help defence is caught ball-watching until OG stops under the hoop, shapes to shoot and gets Okafor off his feet. Pelican’s rookie Nickeil Alexander-Walker rotates down to try and swat the shot out of the air but OG’s pivot shot is too quick. The shot release is nearly uncontested even with three Pelicans defenders around the hoop and OG scores the bucket.
There’s a lot to like about this play. Firstly, the decision making on the three-point line. OG sizes up Okafor and knows he has the strength to bully his way to the rack. I suspect he also recognized that there was a lot of space behind Okafor as Walker was very slow to back off Lowry after the pass. Secondly, the ball handling skills. OG’s dribble, while crossing to the left and driving into the defender was extremely secure. He wasn’t rushing or off balance, even with a defender on his shoulder the whole time. Finally, the finish at the rack. After making it all the way under the hoop, it would have been easy to rush a shot or pass to a perimeter shooter, as the Raptors tend to do a little too often. Instead OG’s pivot and layup were perfectly timed to create enough space from the primary defender and beat the help defender attempting to block the shot. If OG can make a habit of getting into the paint and beating his primary defender one-on-one like this, it creates yet another option for coach Nick Nurse to go to when the Raptors need a bucket.