By just about any measure, this has been a sub-par season for the Toronto Raptors, even with a pathway into the postseason still on offer via the play-in tournament.
Instead of building on a strong end to the 2021/22 season and a respectable first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Raptors have regressed, with the defense undersized and the offense too often stuck in mud.
But there have been bright spots along the way. If Pascal Siakam, who made it to the All-Star Game (as an injury replacement), is at the top of that list, then O.G. Anunoby and his stellar two-way play aren’t far behind.
Speculation over Anunoby’s long-term future in Toronto has been rampant over the past 12 months, peaking ahead of the February trade deadline, but it’s hard to picture this Raptors defense surviving without his steady presence on the perimeter.
Averaging almost 17 points a game, and just under 40% on 3-pointers, Anunoby has been a key floor-spacer for Nick Nurse’s men – and his 29-point, eight-rebound effort against the Washington Wizards on Sunday was a perfect example of his readiness to shoulder a bigger burden offensively.
But it’s his ability to guard multiple positions and slow down the league’s best scorers that sets him apart from so many other wings in the NBA. He’s embraced a wide range of assignments on that end of the floor, from Nikola Jokic to Donovan Mitchell, while making a compelling case for the Defensive Player of the Year ballot.
While he may not win it (the award has traditionally been dominated by power forwards and centres), Anunoby’s tenacious defense has registered with a league-wide audience. “He’s certainly an all-defensive team player in my mind, for sure, if not the winner of the award,” as Nurse said earlier this month.
Anunoby was at it again on Tuesday night in the 106-92 win over the Miami Heat, scoring 22 points on 9-for-14 shooting to go with his usual brand of lockdown defense that sets the tone for his team-mates.
“I’m learning from O.G.,” Precious Achiuwa explained after the Heat game. “He has really, really good hands, and the way he attacks the ball on defense is one of the things I’m trying to pick up from him.”
“We need all these games, and there’s a sense of urgency,” Siakam added, as the Raptors look ahead to their final six games of the season. “There’s a lot of things that we can’t control so we’re just focusing on us and making sure that we’re on point.”
By way of the UK, as per the Raptors’ pre-game introductions, Anunoby is still only 25 and all the arrows are pointed upward as he tries to help Toronto reach the postseason. Check out worldinsport.com for more NBA coverage.