As Toronto Raptors fans, we didn’t have much to cheer about last season. Our team was 3,000 miles away, and, well, they kinda stunk. But the biggest bright spot in a mostly dark season was the ongoing development and improvement of OG Anunoby.
Before the 2020-21 season tipped off, Anunoby secured the bag, as they say, signing a four-year, $72 million contract extension. While technically that extension kicks in for next season, it still put additional pressure on Anunoby to live up to that potential this past season.
Thankfully, he did exactly that, and if that growth continues, he’ll quickly turn that contract into one of the best bargains in the league.
As a quick summary, Anunoby played a bigger role for the Raptors this season than he had in any past season. His usage rate was 19.3 percent, five whole percentage points more than last season, and he averaged a career-high 33.3 minutes per game. Consequently, he averaged career highs in pretty much every statistical category, including true shooting percentage, which means that, despite the higher usage, Anunoby remained highly efficient in his expanded role, which is just plain awesome to see.
It’s also worth noting that Anunoby ended up playing only 43 of the team’s 72 games this past season. Thanks to the health and safety protocols and a couple of (thankfully not serious) injuries, plus the team’s, shall we say, lack of urgency down the stretch, Anunoby missed a lot of time. I don’t think it’s anything to be too concerned about going forward, but that low number likely contributed to his lack of All-NBA Defensive Team votes, which is a shame.
Now, let’s dive in a little deeper.
Let’s start with the side of the ball that we know Anunoby excels at. He’s hung his hat on his defensive acumen since coming into the league, and he showcased that ability to the fullest extent this past season, guarding multiple positions extremely well. He guarded everyone from Chris Paul to Nikola Jokic last season, and he was a pain in the butt to all of them. Moreover, Anunoby remains an excellent team defender, routinely switching with ease, denying the ball, doubling down and recovering and closing out on shooters.
Numbers-wise, OG notched career highs in deflections (3.2) and steals (1.5) per game. His overall defensive rating (109) and defensive win shares (1.6) both dropped, however, to career lows. I won’t blame this on Anunoby’s individual efforts, but more on the lack of lineup consistency the Raptors had thanks to injuries and COVID, and the lack of a defensive-minded centre to back him up. Plus, you know, the whole “playing the entire season on the road” thing!
With a healthy roster, a proper training camp and the team playing back in Toronto next season, I fully expect the numbers to better reflect what the eye test shows: That Anunoby is one of the absolute best defensive players in the NBA. With Anunoby playing alongside Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam, the Raptors, despite their major slippage overall on the defensive end this past season, should represent a fearsome perimeter defense for seasons to come.
We pretty much knew what we were getting with OG on the defensive end; what I really wanted to see this past season was how his offensive game would develop. With Serge Ibaka having departed in free agency, there were a few extra shots to go around, and it seemed likely some of them would end up with OG.
They did. Anunoby’s shot attempts jumped from 8.2 per game to 12.1, and although his overall field goal percentage was down slightly from the prior season, his three-point shooting and free throw percentages hit career-high marks. He shot consistently well from all over the floor, focusing on shots at the rim and behind the arc.
Truly, a prototypical highly efficient offensive wing player.
That said, I’m not suggesting that OG was sitting behind the line waiting for the ball to come his way or just scoring from the dunker’s spot. No, one of the best things about this past season was seeing Anunoby use his strength and quickness to create off the dribble.
You can see the whole offensive package on display from his 30-point game against the Pacers:
There’s still plenty of room for improvement of course. Anunoby’s handle is pretty loose, and although the “Bambi on ice” moments are becoming less frequent, as defenses adjust to his bigger role you can bet they’ll be looking to swipe those high, wide dribbles away. OG also showed a propensity to drop his shoulder to clear out defenders, picking up more than a few offensive foul calls; his strength is a huge advantage, but he’ll need to learn to get inside of his defender before using the shoulder to protect the ball, rather than trying to create space with it.
Based on the steady improvement we’ve seen in OG’s game over his first four seasons, I’m certain those improvements will come.
Before we sign off, I think it’s worth taking the time to reiterate what OG Anunoby is not. He’s not Pascal Siakam, who had a meteoric rise between his second and third seasons; Anunoby’s growth plan is more of the steady uptick variety. He’s also not Kawhi Leonard, as much as we might want him to be (and as much as his defensive prowess makes the comparisons inevitable). Kawhi, as he’s reminding us in the 2021 playoffs (or was, before he got hurt) is also an extraordinary talent on offense. Anunoby, for all of his offensive strides, simply does not seem destined to reach that level.
All of which is fine. He’s not Siakam, he’s not Kawhi. He’s OG Anunoby, he’s one of a kind, and he’ll continue that steady growth as a Raptor for the foreseeable future.
And that’s a damn good thing.