Jun 22, 2017; Brooklyn, NY, USA; OG Anunoby (Indiana) is introduced by NBA commissioner Adam Silver as the number twenty-three overall pick to the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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Touted by Toronto Raptors fans as one of the steals of the 2017 NBA Draft, OG Anunoby has some high expectations to meet. Here are five reasons why their excitement about Anunoby is fully warranted.
In the wake of the 2017 NBA Draft, I gave the Toronto Raptors an A for their selection of OG Anunoby out of Indiana University with pick No. 23. Maybe that grade was a knee-jerk reaction to a possible lottery talent falling into Toronto’s lap, but even with a level head, Anunoby remains an excellent choice.
By now, Raptors fans know roughly what the teenager brings to the table. He’s an athletic specimen blessed with ridiculously long arms and great defensive instincts. He’s a potential stopper at the next level.
But defensive ability alone isn’t the reason general manager Masai Ujiri signed off on Anunoby. If you dig even slightly deeper, you’ll uncover a whole host of factors that likely played into the decision.
Before succumbing to an ACL injury last season, Anunoby averaged 17.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per 40 minutes, while shooting a fiery 70.1 percent from two-point range. He needs to refine his shot, but he at least has experience taking threes (2.8 per game) and making a not-insignificant amount (31.1 percent).
Here, I lay out five reasons Anunoby was the correct pick – some mentioned already, some more subtle. He’ll have to prove us right on the court, but for now, it’s safe to feel excited about Anunoby. From team needs to skill-set to upside, the kid seems perfect for the Toronto Raptors.
Yes, Toronto drafted Anunoby literally five days ago. But in the cutthroat NBA, where front offices move players around ruthlessly in search of their ideal team, that fact means nothing.
Anunoby is on the Raptors now, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be on the Raptors at the end of his rookie contract. If a win-now player becomes available and Ujiri wants to pounce, a young player like Anunoby is a clear trade candidate.
Luckily, he’s a highly adaptable prospect, which increases both his trade value and his trade market. Anunoby can play as a 3 or a 4, but may also be able to guard 2s and 5s for extended minutes. Defensively, he can hold up in any lineup.
That’s not the case with many players, especially youngsters. Single-position big men like John Collins and Tony Bradley can only be used in so many lineup combinations, and very few teams need big men anyways. The same goes for a point guard like Jawun Evans or a single-position 2-guard like Luke Kennard.
Anunoby, by contrast, is the type of versatile forward every team always needs. Even if he doesn’t perform right away, his market should be strong because of his skill-set and pre-draft reputation. As prospective trade partners will know, OG Anunobys don’t grow on trees.
Nov 27, 2016; Bloomington, IN, USA; Indiana Hoosiers forward OG Anunoby (3) steals the ball from Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils guard Darrell Riley (3) in the first half of the game at Assembly Hall. Indiana defeated Mississippi Valley State 85-52. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
4. Defensive versatility
Critics of pro basketball often stereotype NBA offense as a monotonous barrage of pick-and-rolls and isolations. First off, it’s unclear why that’s a bad thing. Second, that’s rather disingenuous. The NBA’s best offenses utilize a constant stream of dribble handoffs, flare screens, pindowns, and the like – some hidden, some not.
The easiest way to thwart those actions? Switch everything. Switching preemptively closes the gaps that screens are meant to create, which means less ball movement, less penetration and more inefficient one-on-one offense. The Warriors’ Death Lineup can switch 2-through-5, and that lineup’s defensive rating last season was absolutely stingy.
Anunoby is a switch-y, versatile defensive dynamo. The Ringer‘s Draft Guide literally listed “defensive versatility” as Anunoby’s greatest draw. Indeed, outlets like The Ringer and Draft Express have praised the 19-year-old’s quick feet against guards and strength on the interior.
At his best, Anunoby won’t just switch onto guards and centers, he’ll match up with guards and centers on every possession, allowing the Raptors to roll out unconventional lineups that present mismatch opportunities on the other end. Coaches would kill for an ostensible wing player who can guard the point. In all likelihood, Anunoby won’t be Draymond Green. That being said, he provides some of the same benefits on defense.
The NBA isn’t position-less quite yet. However, more so than at any other time, NBA lineup combinations are practically limitless. Versatile players like Anunoby are the keys that unlock those lineups. The more ways a team can play, the more likely that team is to succeed.
Mar 31, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward PJ Tucker (2) and forward Patrick Patterson (54) celebrate a play by center Jonas Valanciunas (17) against the Indiana Pacers at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Indiana 111-100. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
3. Positional need
True, you can never have too many versatile wings and forwards. That’s just where the game is going. On the flip side, you can definitely have too few, and the Raptors do.
With Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker entering free agency, here is a list of forwards the Raptors have under contract:
Not exactly world-beaters. Siakam and Caboclo are just as raw as Anunoby, while Carroll just struggled through a grim year.
Don’t expect Anunoby to immediately replace Patterson and Tucker if either, or both, sign elsewhere. Those two guys are proven shooters and defenders with years of experience in professional basketball. Only elite rookies can supplant rotation players immediately.
Dwane Casey on OG Anunoby’s defensive upside: “He’s a P.J. Tucker clone, practically”
Still, Anunoby’s NBA-ready body, defensive solidity and potential to toggle between forward positions give him a chance to make an impact at a position of need. His addition to the team will help Ujiri replenish the Raptors’ frontcourt depth. Even if Toronto is still two or three players away from a fully stocked roster, Anunoby represents a decent first step.
Sometimes, teams have to choose between talent and need. Toronto didn’t. They got the best player left to fill their shallowest and least talented position.
Jan 3, 2017; Bloomington, IN, USA; Indiana Hoosiers forward OG Anunoby (3) drives to the basket against Wisconsin Badgers forward Nigel Hayes (10) at Assembly Hall. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
2. Immediate value
Remember when LeBron James played DeMarre Carroll off the court in this year’s Eastern Conference semifinals? By Game 4, Toronto coach Dwane Casey essentially banished Carroll because he knew P.J. Tucker had to match LeBron minute-for-minute. Tucker was the only guy with a puncher’s chance against The King.
It happened against Milwaukee, too. Giannis Antetokounmpo can obliterate smaller guys in the post, but Tucker was – literally speaking – a bigger challenge. In all likelihood, the same story would’ve played out against Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant if Toronto played in the West.
The league’s elite forwards require a special type of defender. It’s not enough to be quick and feisty and smart. It’s also usually necessary to be physically imposing. Try guarding LeBron in the post without a little meat on your bones.
The Indiana product’s 6’8,” 232-pound frame can hold up on the post, and his 7’2″ wingspan will allow him to closeout against jumpers and recover to challenge shots at the rim. He also brings a pedigree as a defensive stopper at the college level, which should give him a clear role to embrace in his first couple of years.
Jan 10, 2017; College Park, MD, USA; Indiana Hoosiers forward OG Anunoby (3) dunks over Maryland Terrapins forward Damonte Dodd (35) during the second half at Xfinity Center. Maryland Terrapins defeated Indiana Hoosiers 75-72. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
1. Future upside
Generally speaking, there are two ways to be a good defender in the NBA. You can be decent at everything – defending the perimeter, defending the post, protecting the rim, patrolling passing lanes. That’s Patrick Patterson or Gordon Hayward.
The other option is to be outstanding at one or two things. Hassan Whiteside sometimes struggles on the perimeter, for instance, but he may as well be holding a broomstick at the rim.
Plus defenders are either versatile or exceptional. Combine those traits and you get an All-NBA Defensive team type of player. We know Anunoby has the versatility down, but given his block and steal numbers, which usually translate from college to the NBA, it’s possible he becomes a unique defensive playmaker at the next level.
Anunoby should be decent at everything. Yet he could also be a cinderblock in the post, or the league’s deflections or steals leader, or a premier perimeter defender. The kid’s tools are that special.
Those physical tools form the basis of Anunoby’s offensive potential, too. As the video above highlights, his body control, straight-line speed, and vertical explosiveness make him a terror attacking closeouts.
His handle and shooting stroke are rudimentary at best. Few college stars post usage percentages as low as 21.1. Even fewer do so while shooting 31.1 percent from three. That said, Anunoby is just 19, and if he improves his ball skills, he could become a two-way stud.
Toronto’s current crop of youngsters simply don’t have star-level athletic ability or the youth needed to harness it. Delon Wright is steady, but he’s 25. Jakob Poeltl showed promise last season, but he’s not blessed with any outstanding talents.