Toronto Raptors: OG Anunoby deserves to be on the All-Defensive team

TAMPA, FLORIDA - MARCH 24: OG Anunoby #3 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FLORIDA - MARCH 24: OG Anunoby #3 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

As Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, and the Toronto Raptors watch their cursed season begin to wind down, the awards talk and All-NBA team predictions we always love debating will start to change from fantasy to analysis.

MVP candidates get crossed off the list, Rookies of the Year battle it out over their last few games, and the league crowns its honor roll students by way of All-NBA Teams.

In this chaotic season, Rudy Gobert’s death-grip on the 2020-21 Defensive Player of the Year award feels refreshingly grounding.  Some will throw around Ben Simmons’ name or even Myles Turner, but most basketball minds agree that Gobert’s dominance on the defensive end and the way it’s lead to winning for the Utah Jazz has earned him his third DOTY trophy.

Where things get murky again is with the All-Defensive teams. Compared to the All-NBA teams, defense is a much harder area of expertise to pin down from the beginning. There isn’t an easy stat like points or assists to cement a player’s defensive contributions on the court.

Raw block and steal numbers can often be misleading, like with Hassan Whiteside, a man almost as famous for his lazy rotations as he is for his big BPG averages.  It’s not an exact science, which makes arguing over who has had the better defensive season more a matter of preference and opinion.

Players like Anunoby often get the short end of the stick because of this.

Toronto Raptors star OG Anunoby should be on the All-Defensive Team.

Defense wins championships. It’s what kept the Toronto Raptors afloat in 2019. The team offense was good, not great, but it was the combination of two former DPOYs in Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol, a 2x blocks leader in Serge Ibaka, and multiple All-Defensive caliber players that created a baseline of team ability that won them the title.

The 2020-21 Raptors have similarly built a strong baseline around defense. Toronto ranks 14th this year in Defensive Rating, but factor out second-chance opportunities, they move into the top 7. In the month of April (and since acquiring a true rebounding center in Khem Birch) the Raptors rank 2nd in the league in defensive rating at 106.9.

The rebounding has helped Toronto reach their defensive potential once again, but it has always started with the players’ efforts stopping the ball. Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet are a feisty, albeit small defensive backcourt, but Anunoby is by far the best defender on the team.

CLEVELAND, OH – APRIL 10: OG Anunoby #3 of the Toronto Raptors  (Photo by Lauren Bacho/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH – APRIL 10: OG Anunoby #3 of the Toronto Raptors  (Photo by Lauren Bacho/Getty Images) /

In the 2020-21 season alone, OG has had to guard players with the size of Joel Embiid, the speed of Damian Lillard, and the craftiness of Luka Doncic. He always is given the toughest assignment on the floor, regardless of position, and despite having to stare down these legendary offensive talents OG holds his own and then some.

Shooting percentages when guarded by Toronto Raptors star OG Anunoby

  • Joel Embiid:  9/33 (27%) – 51% for the season
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo:  27/54 (50%) – 58% for the season
  • Damian Lillard:  15/37 (40%) – 44% for the season
  • Luka Doncic:  4/11 (36%) – 48% for the season

OG is clearly an elite-level defender, but that’s not always enough to make the All-Defensive team. The biggest knock on him is that OG’s raw block and steal stats aren’t anything too impressive.

Contrast that to a guy like Myles Turner, who averages 3.4 blocks a game despite his limited role as a pure rim protector, and OG’s award deserving defense becomes more difficult to promote. The truth is, OG’s defense is the kind of thing that must be seen in-game, not as a box score or an advanced stat. They don’t do it justice and they won’t get him the recognition he deserves.

The road to the All-Defensive team is bumpy for OG Anunoby

Besides Gobert and Simmons, there really isn’t anyone who’s a lock for the All-Defensive team. Giannis Antetokounmpo is probably a shoo-in, but everyone else has one issue or another to go with their case.

Embiid was threatening to win the whole thing before missing time with injury. Clint Capela and Turner are each deserving but they’re now battling it out with Embiid and Bam Adebayo for the 2nd team center spot.

The dirty secret about the All-Defensive team is that it’s much more difficult for bigs to get in. The way the systems are set up allows for only six non-guards to make the team. In a game that demands offensive-minded perimeter players, often leads to less deserving players getting left off.

Anunoby has been listed as a small forward his entire career, which means he has to scrap it out with all the previously mentioned stoppers for a shot at the team.

For example; Jrue Holiday has had a great defensive season, but he makes first team in a heartbeat purely because he’s a guard and fits the system’s criteria.

Potential All-Defensive First Team

  • G Ben Simmons
  • G Jrue Holiday
  • F ?
  • F Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • F Rudy Gobert

OG is battling with Embiid, Capela, Adebayo, and Myles Turner for that final spot despite the fact he is the most versatile and best non-big defender in the game.

The stats won’t back up his contributions compared to those other guys, but that’s due in part to OG always having to guard the opposing team’s best player.

His opponent’s points per game average is high because he’s always matched up with the other team’s leading scorer. Contrast this with Turner, who doesn’t allow for a lot of points but is allowed to wait under the rim and block shots instead of contending with 10 Kyrie Irving iso plays in a single night.

Even Giannis and Bam get to use their size and length to play free safety on defense.

OG doesn’t just deserve this, he’s earned it. He is one of the most underrated players in the NBA, and his calling card is his defense. NBA Awards voters need to get over the per-game stats and start actually paying attention to the defensive impact players have on the floor.

If this team is purely stats-based, Chris Boucher would be the superior defender to Anunoby. No shot at Boucher, but Raptors fans know that’s not true.

If Anunoby makes an all-defensive team this year, it’ll prove that voters are actually watching his games, watching his substantial improvements this season, and watching him dominate on the defensive end.

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