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An Ode to O.G. Anunoby

As we say farewell to a beloved Raptor, let’s take a look back at his career since being drafted to Toronto...

NBA: Preseason-Chicago Bulls at Toronto Raptors Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, if you truly love something, you have to let it go.

I imagine this was the sentiment among many Raptors fans upon finding out there was a deal in place sending O.G. Anunoby to The Big Apple this past Saturday. It certainly was for me.

The knife turned some more upon seeing the fan favourite wing in his new Knicks gear for the first time as they defeated the Timberwolves on New Years Day. The silver lining, Anunoby was finally receiving the praise he deserved, yet never received from the American media while playing in Toronto.

Anunoby truly embodied what it meant to be a Toronto Raptor.

A late 2017 first round pick, the long, athletic, bowtie wearing British forward out of Indiana was seen as an NBA ready defender, but more of a project in every other area of the game.

Having just drafted Pascal Siakam late in the first round and signing undrafted free agent Fred VanVleet after the 2016 draft, the Raptors were betting on themselves and their development staff to take these young players with raw, athletic ability and build them into the best all around players possible.

Due to Anunoby’s position, size, length, and defensive ability, the Kawhi Leonard comparisons were made - and would only increase once the two were teammates, but we’re not there yet - however, it was very clear that they were not the expectation.

Instead, Anunoby was expected to play mostly a 3&D role out of the draft, with the size, speed and defensive acumen to guard the opposing team’s best wing or guard night in and night out.

The 20-year old wing would go on to do just that, starting in 62 of the 74 games he appeared in as an NBA rookie. It was known that the offence would need some time to marinate, and Dwayne Casey made it quite evident as Anunoby averaged the 11th most shot attempts per game on the team.

There were certainly some ups and downs along the way, but the rookie made the most of his opportunities, shooting 37% from deep on nearly three attempts a night. His size and length made him a clear threat around the rim as well, as he shot 60% on two point shots.

It was creating on his own and using his size to get shots up in the midrange as the ball handler where there was some work to be done, and for a Raptors team looking to contend, they did not have the wherewithal to let the rookie work out his kinks.

Anunoby would average 5.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and less than one assist per game as a rookie, though his value came mostly from his qualitative output rather than quantitative. Due to this, and likely also due to the American media’s lack of attention on the Raptors, OG was snubbed from either first or second All-Rookie and All-Defence teams.

To make matters worse, remember what I said about Anunoby consistently guarding the opposing team’s best player?

I wasn’t lying, as the 20-year old rookie was given the assignment of guarding 2018 LeBron James in the 2nd round of the playoffs. While OG held his own as best he could, The King was a force to be reckoned with in that playoff run and left most non-Raptors fans with this clip as their only glimpse into Anunoby’s rookie season.

Moving on from another playoff loss to LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers, more was expected from Anunoby heading into his second season in the league.

Keeping with the Kawhi Leonard comparisons, it was expected that Anunoby would begin his offensive breakout in year 2, especially with a new head coach incoming in Nick Nurse.

As a sophomore, Kawhi demonstrated more offensive abilities and was given three more shots a night, and ended up averaging four more points a night as a result. Already starting in nearly every game as a rookie, surely Anunoby was in for a larger role and therefore more production? Right?

Nope. Tired of playoff losses and waiting for the right chance to win it all, Raptors president Masai Ujiri went out and acquired the star wing who many were comparing and hoping Anunoby to be in Kawhi Leonard.

As the two both played small forward at the time, Anunoby was reduced back to a bench role, joining the aforementioned Siakam and VanVleet in the “Bench Mob”. Thus, OG’s sophomore season went much like his first, playing a 3&D role and not getting much time with the ball in his hands.

However, the playoffs could not have gone any differently. Only two days before the Raptors were set to tip off against the Magic in the 1st round of the 2019 playoffs, Anunoby had an emergency appendectomy as his appendix burst.

The second year wing would end up missing the entire 2019 playoff run, which I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how that ended, but I will. With Kawhi leading the way and winning NBA Finals MVP, Toronto won the 2019 NBA Championship. Despite not being able to take the floor in the playoff run, Anunoby was with the team the entire way and was crowned an NBA champion.

As the 2019 offseason progressed, it became more and more clear that Kawhi would not be sticking around to run it back in Toronto. That’s another saga where I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how it ended, and this time I won’t.

While Kawhi moving on was a disappointment, it did allow Anunoby to slot back into the starting lineup and finally see some of the offensive development that was expected of him since being drafted.

Raptors fans will remember the 2019-20 team quite fondly, but those around the rest of the league may not know just how impressive that team was. A season that saw Toronto repeat as the number two seed in the East also saw Pascal Siakam crowned as the Most Improved Player and make All-NBA 2nd Team.

While Siakam, Lowry and emerging starter Fred VanVleet gathered most of the attention, Anunoby was quietly progressing in his own right, on and off the court.

While fans were already big on Anunoby as a player, the 2019-20 season is when we finally got to see more of his (incredibly dry yet hilarious) personality. From the SLAM team interview from before the season, to clothes shopping with Serge Ibaka, Anunoby was only increasing his stock with Raptors fans.

Starting 68 of his 69 appearances, OG earned himself a couple more shots a night and knocked down threes at a 39% clip. Most importantly, he was showing more glimpses as a ball handler, being able to create his own shot while keeping up on the defensive side of the ball. He averaged 1.4 steals and nearly one block per game, while breaking the double digit mark on offence with 10.6 points a night on 50% shooting from the field.

The cherry on top of Anunoby’s 2019-20 season was easily the shot you all know I’m about to bring up.

Second round of the 2020 NBA bubble playoffs, down 2-0 in the series to the Boston Celtics, trailing by two points with only 0.5 seconds remaining to avoid going down 3-0, Nick Nurse draws up an inbound play to Anunoby from Lowry and it is executed to perfection.

Yes, they lost that series despite coming away with the insane last half-second win, but we as Raptors and NBA fans were forever gifted with the memory of that play. More importantly, OG Anunoby was put back on the map as a gifted shooter and offensive threat. Even more importantly, we got another stellar quote from the dry-witted wing when asked about the shot after game.

Anunoby’s offensive breakout would finally come in a 2020-21 season that I think all Raptors fans would like to forget, so I won’t dwell on it very much. I will, however, remind you that this was the season in which Canada would not re-open its border for sports, meaning the TORONTO Raptors would play the season out of Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. Even worse, their make-shift practice facility was essentially a hotel ballroom.

Already with an aging team, the other circumstances the Raptors faced certainly didn’t help as they fell to the 12th seed in the East, missing the play-offs and newly minted play-in tournament as well. Despite the team’s struggles and missing time with injury, Anunoby finally had the offensive breakout that fans had been waiting for.

Although he only appeared in 43 of the season’s 72 games, OG averaged 15.9 points, while his volume shot up from eight to 12 shots a night and from three to six three-point attempts a game. Anunoby actually shot better on more volume, increasing his three-point percentage to 39.8%. The defence didn’t suffer at all either, keeping up with his 1.5 steals and 0.7 blocks per game.

After an excruciatingly tough, losing season, Raptors fans had hope that, despite Kyle Lowry moving on, we had found a new top scoring option in Anunoby. Not to mention, that more help was on the way with the 4th overall pick incoming as well.

You may have noticed, it’s been pretty positive up until this point. Which, to this point in his career, Anunoby was delivering on what was expected of him and continuously growing as a player. However, not all growth is linear, in fact it often is all but linear. So, for a career that to this point was pretty linear in progression, some down times were to be expected.

Down times may even be an exaggeration, as the 2021-22 season wasn’t bad at all for the Toronto Raptors, or OG as a player. With Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes added to the roster, the team made it back to the playoffs led by Siakam’s All-NBA Third Team season. Fred VanVleet was thrust into the starting PG role with Lowry gone, and OG saw more increase in his shot volume.

This time, however, his percentages began to decrease. Shooting 36% from three and 44% from the field for 17.1 points a night, by no means was Anunoby a bad shooter. Instead, it was looking as though he may have plateaued offensively.

Once again, he posted his 1.5 steals and 0.5 blocks per game, as the defence continued to be All-Defence worthy despite never making an All-Defence Team. A 3&D player who had progressed enough to have some ball handling and shot creation capabilities is still incredibly valuable, and OG proved as much as he continued to aid the team in winning.

The following season, however, is where we started to see the beginning of the end of OG Anunoby’s time in Toronto. With free agency looming in 2024, Anunoby wanted a larger role offensively, despite showing he may not be worthy or capable of one. A larger role also meant a larger paycheque, which Anunoby was no doubt clamouring for as rumours of teams inquiring about trading for the wing began circulating.

His offensive output continued to plateau as the Raptors once again missed the playoffs amid one of the most confusing and frustrating seasons in recent memory. Nick Nurse had vocally checked out long before season’s end, there were rumours of players playing selfishly and a fractured locker room, with Siakam and Anunoby’s free agency decisions looming at just over a year away.

While the offensive output was quite similar to his 2021-22 production, Anunoby hit his peak defensively in 2023. Leading the league in steals and continuing to average nearly a block per game, OG finally made All-Defence as he was named to the Second Team as a guard.

With Anunoby having evidently peaked offensively and the Raptors rocky start to this season, a decision was needed sooner rather than later.

Fans, myself included, clamoured for a trade, as the roster outside of Siakam and Barnes were not consistently producing enough to get this team into the playoff hunt. Whether it was an acquisition, or committing to a re-tool, Masai and Bobby Webster needed to finally make a move.

The move finally came on December 30th, as Anunoby was traded to the New York Knicks along with Precious Achiuwa and Malachi Flynn. Seemingly committed to a re-tool, moving on from Anunoby was the right decision.

The Raptors were unlikely to keep OG past this season, as other teams around the league would have the financial capability to offer him more money than Toronto was likely willing to.

At best, Anunoby was the third option scoring wise in this offence that is struggling to find its leg when the ball is not in the hands of Siakam or Barnes. On the topic of Scottie Barnes, the third year forward has developed into a very capable defender both on the interior and perimeter. Though not quite as strong defensively as Anunoby, Barnes’s step forward on both ends of then court this season has allowed Toronto to pursue other options.

New York makes more sense for Anunoby as well, remaining the third scoring option doesn’t put more weight on his shoulders. He provides a team looking to contend with some much needed defensive prowess on the wing, along with the ability to guard all five positions. The Knicks are hurting for defence with starting centre and defensive anchor Mitchell Robinson confirmed out for the remainder of the season.

Most importantly, New York is a bigger market with more eyes on it than Toronto. The bag Anunoby would’ve commanded on the free agent market was already big enough, but everything is more amplified in the Garden. Whether he sticks around in New York or not, the dollar value on Anunoby’s next deal has already gone up.

Throughout his six seasons in Toronto, OG Anunoby grabbed the hearts of Raptors fans both on and off court, and also put us on scarves.

An NBA champion, a steals champion and an All-Defence level player, all from the 23rd pick of the draft (thanks Greivis Vasquez trade). Although Saturday’s trade marked the end of his career with the Raptors, OG gave Raptors fans memories that will last a lifetime.

From Raptors fans around the world, farewell and thank you OG Anunoby!