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Player Review: O.G. Anunoby finally receives the All-Defence recognition he deserves

Anunoby spent another season atop the NBA Steals standings, finally earning him an All-Defence nod.

Toronto Raptors v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

O.G. Anunoby spent the 2022/23 NBA season at the front of everyone’s minds. Whether you were the player he was defending, desperate to pass him or his teammates relying on his steady presence, or every GM in the league calling Masai Ujiri to see if he was available — Anunoby is finally the name everyone is bringing up.

The Raptors drafted Anunoby in the 2017 NBA Draft, 23rd overall. He quickly became a defensive powerhouse, coming off the bench in the 2019 championship run and eventually growing into a starting calibre player. Called “Young Kawhi” on multiple occasions, his defensive prowess and ability to shoot the three allows the comparison to some extent.

He’s steadily improved over his six seasons in the NBA, but fans have been expecting a jump from him for some time. He’s been at the top of categories such as steals per game and people have been projecting him as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, yet injuries over the past few seasons have stopped him from reaching that potential.

This past season was the first in which he wasn’t away for an extended period of time in a few seasons — and it showed. He started in all 67 games he played this season, one less start than in the 2020 season. He only played more games in his rookie season. He stayed atop the NBA in steals per game, averaging 1.9 per game and tallying a career high of 128 on the season. He also scored the most points he has ever scored in a season, with 1124 total.

Anunoby also ended the season with career highs in blocks (50 total), assists (131 total), and free throw percentage (83.8%) — all making sense when you think about how many games he has missed in past seasons.

He also has improved his handle exponentially over the years, helping with the Raptors system under Nick Nurse of “position-less basketball.” He isn’t a point guard by any means, but if he must bring the ball up the court, he can and it’s not detrimental to the play — plus he can still shoot well. His size allows him to be a threat under the basket, yet his sheer force is enough to plow through many defenders when he drives. That same force allows him to be a steady defender — who can keep the likes of Kevin Durant and DeMar DeRozan, to start, at bay.

Maybe not yet at the superstar status in this league, yet Anunoby knows his role well. He is assigned to defend the best player on the opposing team. Whether it’s Durant or DeRozan, Devin Booker or Kyrie Irving — you name him, O.G. can defend him. Thats a huge factor in his “portfolio” as a player.

All of this improvement this season caused Anunoby’s draft stock to ROCKET up into space. As the Raptors’ losses piled this season, you can only imagine Masai’s phone kept buzzing with calls from other teams interested in O.G.

Toronto ended up being the talk of the league come the trade deadline, and mainly, Anunoby. Many thought the team would do a big reset, trading away one of the core members to build around Pascal Siakam or Scottie Barnes. We know now that didn’t happen, but rumours had Anunoby as the main centrepiece to many of the potential deals going on at that time.

At one point, teams were offering upwards of five second-round draft picks for Anunoby — but Masai did not budge. Anunoby stayed a Raptor, and questions swirled over what they would eventually do with him.

Here are the options:

  1. Keep him and pay him: Anunoby contract is almost up, and he will want a RAISE. Fair, judging that he’s worth five second round picks apparently. If the Raptors are serious about him, sure they could pay him, but do they have the space? There are so many questions around this team that we cannot answer until we know who the franchise will be sticking with — Siakam? VanVleet? Trent Jr.? — that it’s hard to determine Anunoby’s future. There is also the fact that there were rumours surrounding him being displeased with his role on the Raptors, so that leads to...
  2. Trade him and get some return: If Anunoby WANTS to leave, AND the Raptors can’t afford him, AND his trade stock is at an all-time high, they should take advantage. Get some good draft picks, or a decent player back for him. If not, it may lead to...
  3. Lose him and get nothing in return: It would be nice to think this won’t happen, but who knows at this point. If the Raptors make no move to trade him or pay him, Anunoby has every right to walk and seek a bigger contract. If no sign and trade is involved, the Raptors risk losing him and getting NOTHING in return. In an era where we need shooters, we need bigs, we need a bench, we don’t even have a COACH as this is being written, the idea of losing Anunoby and getting nothing back in return is painful.

All of this improvement, plus the trade talks led to Anunoby getting more awards season recognition than he ever has before. It was announced that he made the NBA’s 2nd team All-Defence, receiving 53 second team votes and 14 first team votes. He landed 8th overall in total votes. It’s surely not where he’d like to be overall (first team snub, in my somewhat biased opinion) but its a good start. At 25 years old and heading into his sixth season in the NBA, the future is bright for O.G. Anunoby.

It’s extremely hard to predict the future of the Raptors, however. Yet, Anunoby seems to have a bright future regardless. If he can have another healthy season in 2023/24 — on the Raptors or not — he can continue to rise in the ranks of defensive powerhouses in the NBA.