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Player Spotlight: OG Anunoby’s Silent but Lethal Offensive Evolution

Seconds after finishing off a sensational 30-point performance in a thrilling road win over the Indiana Pacers on January 24th, OG Anunoby was dapped up, hugged, and congratulated by his teammates. He then calmly walked over to take a postgame interview with TSN’s Kate Beirness to discuss the tantalizing clinic he had just finished putting on. In his usual manner, he was chock-full of one-to-three word sentences to answer questions.

In Beirness’ final remark, she uttered to Anunoby, “Now that you’ve become such a good scorer, we’re going to be doing these postgame interviews more often. Are you okay with that?” Even the generally mild-mannered and stoic Anunoby couldn’t help but crack a smile and respond, “Yeah, that’s cool with me.”

While Beirness let out a chuckle and sent Anunoby on his way to celebrate some more in the locker room, she was spot on in her remark: OG Anunoby is quietly evolving into a solid offensive weapon. With some brand new moves in his arsenal, this version of OG could be here to stay as one of the league’s better two-way players.

His offence has diversified and allowed him to evolve into a legitimate scoring threat from many areas on the court, leading to the 23-year-old seeing his scoring average increase to a career-best 14.6.

In response to a higher usage and workload, Anunoby’s improved his true shooting percentage to 63.0, topping his career-high of 60 percent from last season. Thanks to some additional work put in on his shot this offseason, Anunoby is also shooting career highs of 43 percent from downtown and 74.5 percent from the free throw line.

It isn’t just the shot that’s fueling OG’s early success this season, however. There are a few key areas of focus that have all blended together beautifully to create the product you see before you:

Nick Nurse is Getting Anunoby to the Right Spots on the Floor

A point of emphasis for Raptors Head Coach Nick Nurse and assistant coach (slash offensive guru) Chris Finch has been to utilize players in their hot spots on the floor. As a result, the majority of Anunoby’s shots have come in two areas exclusively: from behind the three-point line or at the rim. Below is OG Anunoby’s shot chart for the 2020-21 season:

NBA.com, Advanced Shot Charts (2021)

It is worth noting that Anunoby’s shot distribution from beyond the arc is fairly even, though he is shooting 45.4 percent on corner threes (44 attempts) versus 40.4 percent from the wings (42 attempts). More than that, Anunoby has only attempted six (!) shots in the mid-range. There is certainly room for Anunoby to develop a mid-range game, but Nurse and Finch are game-planning to get Anunoby to his preferred spots on the floor, and to his credit, he is taking full advantage of it.

Improved Handles and Coordination on Drives

Looking inside, Anunoby is seeing tremendous success in the paint thanks to a few key attributes. Another very noticeable improvement in OG’s game is his tightened handle, which has opened up his driving and improved finishing. Anunoby is shooting a career-high 58.7 percent in the paint and averaging a career-high 2.8 free throws per game this season.

Anunoby is visibly comfortable taking opposing wings off the dribble from the three point line, and he is using his body to absorb contact and finish plays inside. Per NBA.com statistics, OG Anunoby is averaging 3.6 drives per game, and on those drives, he is either scoring or getting to the free throw line approximately 70 percent of the time.

Compared to the 2019-20 season, Anunoby’s rate on the same metrics was 55 percent on 3.5 drives per game. While the volume hasn’t changed, his efficiency on such plays have dramatically improved. This bodes well for Anunoby to increase his usage of these types of plays going forward, adding another weapon to his offensive arsenal in addition to the already stellar shooting from distance.

The Confidence Is There

There are no statistics or metrics to measure this one. Solely from the eye test, OG Anunoby looks as confident on the offensive end as he’s ever been. He has been decisive with the ball in his hands, making the correct reads, and knows where he needs to be on the floor.

Below is a great example from early in Sunday’s matchup against the Indiana Pacers, with Anunoby driving against Domantas Sabonis:

Anunoby looks confident bringing the ball up the court, and as Sabonis pressures him at halfcourt, daring him to dribble. Anunoby quickly identifies an opening and drives past him. Sabonis makes an excellent recovery, catching up to seal him at the elbow, but Anunoby quickly makes a second move to spin away from Sabonis while he is still backpedaling. Before Sabonis has a chance to set his feet and get in front of Anunoby to contest the shot, OG completes the spin move and finishes smoothly with the left hand.

This is perhaps the most crucial development in Anunoby’s offensive game, is being able to trust himself and the development he’s put into these moves and using them in game action. Being willing to attack and doing so consistently will put tremendous pressure on the defence, and force teams to have to consider him as part of their game plan.

Anunoby is being this aggressive more consistently this season, to tremendous results. His teammates are trusting him more with the ball to make smart decisions on the court and given the Raptors’ struggles with shot creation this year, the team will certainly need him to do so. As Anunoby himself once said, he doesn’t shoot trying to miss.

A particular play scheme that Nurse liked to deploy last season was parking one of Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka on the elbows and having them make a read. If they end up in a one on one matchup, they would post up and go strong to the basket. If a defender came in to help and double team, they would kick it back out to the three point line, resulting in an open shot.

The next steps for Anunoby to continue his offensive evolution will be to develop his play on the elbows. It’s not something that has been utilized a heavy amount, but there have been a few instances this season where OG has been able to flash a post-up here and there.

At six-foot-seven and 232 pounds, Anunoby certainly has the size and strength to develop a post-up game, and if he can get some opportunity in those sets, his awareness should develop gradually. This will come in due time as Anunoby continues to establish himself as an offensive threat from many areas on the court.

The progression for Anunoby has been something to marvel at this season. He is shooting high percentages from the outside and finishing more on the inside, establishing himself as a true offensive weapon. He has certainly come a long way from his rookie year, where his offence was mostly limited to corner threes.

For Raptors fans that have been excited at OG’s offensive development thus far, they should be. Even more so, it appears he is merely scratching the surface of his potential.

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