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Player Review: The lost season of OG Anunoby

The Raptors are still high on the potential of OG Anunoby, their forward of the future. But after a season filled with setbacks, where is OG at now with his career? Let’s review.

Five thoughts recap: Detroit Pistons 110, Toronto Raptors 107, OG Anunoby Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Now two seasons into his pro basketball career, it’s not quite clear what exactly OG Anunoby can do for Toronto. It’s not impossible to envision what the Raptors would like for him to be able to do; we’ve certainly seen glimpses of various things he seems capable of doing. As a mobile 6’8”, 232 pound forward, his physical tools are obvious. But after a 2018-19 season that saw OG miss 15 regular season games and the team’s entire championship playoff run, the data we have is still inconclusive at best.

Given how Anunoby performed as a complementary starter during his rookie season in Toronto, and the confidence he showed in the 2018 playoffs, it would have been impossible to imagine a Raptors’ title run that didn’t include Anunoby in some way. Sure, Kawhi Leonard became the team’s starter, but having Anunoby paired with Pascal Siakam felt like the makings of something special from the jump. That trio in particular seemed primed to be able to guard every type of player the Raptors would face (save the really small, or really big). But things did not, and have not gone that way. Now Kawhi is with the Clippers, Siakam is a mainstay of Toronto’s offense, and OG hasn’t played meaningful basketball since early April. So what can we make of Anunoby’s lost sophomore season now?

Let’s get to the facts. Anunoby played in 67 games this past season, starting six of them. This is a considerable change from his rookie year in which he started 62 games for the Raptors. (Having Kawhi on the roster will do that.) Across those 67 games, OG averaged 7.0 points and 2.9 rebounds, while shooting 45 percent from the field and 33 percent from three in 20.2 minutes per contest. While his scoring did go up a tick this year over last, none of these stats indicate much growth from Anunoby. I’d love to be able to tell you advanced stats tell a different story, but they don’t quite favour him either. He is what they suggest: a low-usage, complementary player still trying to find his lane in the NBA.

That said, no story of Anunoby’s 2018-19 season is complete without mentioning all the things he went through during the year. Which is to say, OG’s inconsistent and at times lacklustre play isn’t entirely his fault. To start the season, Anunoby missed a few games to deal with a personal issue — which, it can now be said, was the death of his father. No small thing for a 21-year-old to deal with. Then, while gamely dealing with that for a couple weeks, Anunoby hurt his shooting wrist in November and missed three more games. The bounce back from that saw OG’s play go all over the board, peaking with a 21-point, 8-rebound explosion against the Cavaliers in late December. At the time, it felt like he was ready to contribute something extra to the Raptors.

Instead, Anunoby missed five more games for personal reasons, further disrupting the rhythm of his season. His return from that saw more up-and-down play, highlighted by a 22-5 line lumped onto the hapless Wizards, before more trouble found him. During the season’s closing stretch, and in the midst of a strong performance against the Bulls, Anunoby took a bad fall, whacked his head, and was diagnosed with “concussion-like symptoms.” As a result, he missed four more games. Any one or two of these events would have been noteworthy for a single season from one player. But then comes the final punchline. Back from the concussion, and seemingly ready to go for the team’s post-season push, it was announced that OG would be out indefinitely after undergoing an emergency appendectomy. After all this bad luck, Anunoby’s season ended with an internal infection, a long recovery time, and no return to the court.

So what did Anunoby do for the Raptors this season? There were some bright spots. He continued to show his utility in both forward positions, allowing Toronto to unlock small-ball lineups with him at the 4-spot. He can still turn on the defensive intensity and cover a disturbing amount of ground after being dislodged with a pick or when closing out on shooters. Anunoby also got to watch firsthand how the apex of his player type, Kawhi, went about his business day in and day out for a season all the way to a championship and Finals MVP. To be that close to that kind of sustained excellence has to count for something.

Still, Anunoby’s shooting, particularly from deep and the free throw line, took a hit this past season. He was down to 33 percent, as mentioned, from 37 from behind the arc, despite keeping his attempts up at three per game. Meanwhile, his FT shooting dipped below 60 percent (to 58), which is inexcusable for almost any player in the league. Again, there were positive flashes there, times when Anunoby would rise up for an explosive dunk, or deflect a ball thought to be out of reach, or find a seam for a cut or pass that didn’t look visible a moment before. Pairing him with Patrick McCaw and Norman Powell was also not an unenjoyable experience. That trio laboured to score, sure, but it was impossible to predict what wild thing they’d do next. (I took to calling them the Chaos Energy Lineup.) That’s of a piece with where Anunoby is now in his career. He has the tools and can do some spectacular stuff on the court — but when and how it will happen are a mystery.

Next season stands as a significant time in OG’s career. He could be back in Toronto’s starting lineup, working the groove he found in his rookie season. Or he could find himself off-course again, playing behind newly signed combo forwards Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. While it feels unlikely the Raptors will just give up on Anunoby, it also feels like our overeager projections, our desire to peg him as a future sensation, may have been a bit off-base. If nothing else, Anunoby’s luck should turn for the better. Here’s hoping for a healthy and happy season from Toronto’s soon-to-be third year pro.