With so much hype and bombast surrounding the offensive improvements that Toronto Raptors star OG Anunoby has made over the course of the last few months, it’s easy to forget that he has the skills to potentially become the best on-ball defender in the Eastern Conference.
With Kyle Lowry in Miami and Pascal Siakam recovering from a shoulder operation, Anunoby is going to be required to take major steps forward this season. Luckily, he has more than enough tools to make good on those expectations, as evidenced during his limited preseason action.
Anunoby not only averaged 19.2 points per game while looking more confident as a primary creator than he did at any prior point in his career, but his lockdown defense remained.
While Nick Nurse and the Raptors added several intriguing defensive pieces, namely Scottie Barnes and Precious Achiuwa in the offseason, it’s clear that Anunoby is the heart and soul of this team on that end. Nurse projects a very strong season on that end for OG despite the fact he’ll face the best of the best.
Nurse said that he is not going to reduce Anunoby’s defensive responsibilities due to his offensive workload, claiming that he is “going to be guarding the best players in the league every night because he can do it.” If he keeps shutting down the league’s best and the Raptors keep winning, he could easily walk home with a Defensive Player of the Year award.
Toronto Raptors star OG Anunoby is eyeing a breakout season.
The term “positionless” is getting thrown around more frequently nowadays, especially in relation to the Raptors, but Anunoby is one of the few players in the league that can embody that concept. Quick enough to stick with guards and strong enough to handle bigs, Anunoby can genuinely start games at any of the five spots on the floor.
Winning Defensive Player of the Year over someone like Jazz center Rudy Gobert might sound difficult, as Utah will almost assuredly have more wins than Toronto and Gobert will have the edge in traditional stats like blocks, but even a very cursory examination of the film shows that Anunoby is truly an elite player on that side of the floor.
If Anunoby is as good as he was last year on defense and Barnes quickly adjusts to the pro game in a regular-season setting, the Raptors should have one of the best divisions in the conference, and that could be what pushes them over the top and gets them back into the postseason.
As good as the Raptors have been over the last few years, the presence of names like Lowry and Kawhi Leonard helped players like OG Anunoby fly under the radar. Luckily, the stage is set for Anunoby to really break out, as he has a complete vote of confidence from his coach.