OG Anunoby thriving as his role grows with the Raptors’ offence — while still playing stellar defence
Hey, OG Anunoby, the Raptors ask, can you get a few more points a game, take a few more shots, dish out more assists, get buckets in a variety of ways and be a go-to guy on offence?
Oh yeah, they add, can you also keep defending the best wing on the other team every night, play up a position or two when we need it, and down one when we need that?
That’s not too much to ask, is it?
Anunoby probably gave them a look, stoic as ever, considered it for about a second, and said “Sure.”
The six-foot-seven wing, who had a career-high 36 points in Toronto’s 113-104 win in New York on Monday, is taking all the demands the team is placing on him and satisfying them.
He struggled in the first couple of regular-season games but, in the four-game winning streak the Raptors take into Washington on Wednesday, he’s averaging 23 points a game, shooting 61 per cent from the field (49-for-80) and 35 per cent from three-point range.
“I was rushing things, I wasn’t reading the defence,” he said. “I was predetermining some stuff. So I’ve just been trying to adjust and learn. I think I’m going to keep learning as the year goes on and get better and better.”
He’s also defending as well as ever. The Raptors and Anunoby were scorched by New York’s Julius Randle for 18 first-quarter points but then locked him down. Randle had four points in the final three quarters.
It was a typical Anunoby defensive performance made all the more impressive by the offence he combined with it.
Just like the team needs.
“He’s really always been a good defender since Day 1 when we got him,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “He really prides himself on that end of the floor and … we’re working on — he’s working and we’re working on — developing a lot more offence and a lot more opportunities for him.
“I think that we told him, we’ll let you develop a lot more offensive opportunities but we don’t want to let your foot off the gas at the other end because we consider him one of the better … top, top defenders in the league.”
The best thing about Anunoby’s offence is the Raptors won’t need him to take 27 shots a game, like he did in Monday’s gem in New York, but it’s nice for them to know that he can. And that he can be effective in a handful of ways, an evolution of his game the team needs to see.
The 24-year-old is a good three-point shooter and teams have to respect him on the perimeter, but he’s shown in the last week or so an emerging post-up game and an ability to find teammates when he’s double- or triple-teamed.
He saw that a few times against New York. Once he drew three defenders in one corner and, while he rifled a cross-court pass over Gary Trent Jr’s head out of bounds, just seeing that opening to make teams pay for sending additional help is key.
“I’m trying to see where the help is coming from, see who’s in the lane, seeing if it’s the big man or where the big man’s at because I know he’s going come help initially,” Anunoby said. “But it’s seeing which shooter’s on the weak side, just knowing who’s going to be where, who’s going to cut, just trying to do that.”
If Anunoby can do a bit more, it will mean that Trent, rookie Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam, when he returns from shoulder surgery, won’t have to do as much.
While it’s nice to think a good team needs one player to emerge as “the man,” having more than one capable of getting a basket when it’s needed most is far better.