Why OG Anunoby Should Not be a Top-5 Pick — But Should Go in the Top-10

People often talk about OG Anunoby as an athletic freak with a chance to be a monster defensively. This does a disservice to OG Anunoby. The NBA has never seen a defensive prospect with the type of tools and production that OG has.

Take a look at this comparison of both physical measures and steals/blocks between OG and other recent elite wing defenders.

Via DraftExpress and Sports-Reference — for all heights I added 1.25 inches to measurements without shoes — players career averages used

Among this elite group of eleven guys, OG is fourth in steals, first in blocks, third tallest, second longest, and second heaviest. No one is as good as OG across the board. Closest to him in steals/blocks is Andre Roberson. The only person with a similar combination of height/length/strength is Kawhi Leonard.

OG’s first game of the year this season against Kansas did a good job highlighting his absurd defensive versatility.

He kept up stride for stride with the extremely quick national player of the year Frank Mason on a game-saving possession.

He rotated over and blocked shots like a center. (Before finishing the play with a nice closeout).

And he battled inside with the 280 pound Udoka Azubuike.

It’s not just that OG can guard a variety of players — he can shut down all different types of guys.

In that Kansas game he spent various amounts of time on Frank Mason, Josh Jackson, and Carlton Bragg. He famously shut down Jamal Murray in the tournament last year. Ask him to trail through screens and guard an elite shooter like Peter Jok and he gives them no space to find a shot.

Zak Irvin is a well-rounded offensive college wing. Against OG, he looks like he’s playing in the wrong age group.

What about a super small and quick point guard? Well, OG did a great job on Frank Mason, but he also made life miserable for Derrick Walton whenever Indiana matched them up. Oftentimes, it is hard to notice good defense because it is more about what the opponent doesn’t look to do than what they actually do. On this possession, OG shadows Walton throughout the play before finishing it off with a steal and breakaway.

Last year, Jarrod Uthoff was a consensus All-American who averaged 19.0 points per game. He’s an athletic combo forward who can really shoot the rock (who was awesome in the D-League this year and should really be signed). OG was an inexperienced 18-year-old freshman.

Advantage OG.

Good luck losing OG off-ball or finding a driving lane Jarrod.

Oh, you think you have a step on OG this time? You probably forgot about the 7'2+ wingspan.

Against lower-level talent like UMass-Lowell, he can look positively rude at times. I mean this is just bullying.

Basically, whatever the matchup, if you want to prevent someone from scoring, just put OG Anunoby on them.

Now, there is some bad tape of his getting beat this year. Melo Trimble burned him a few times against Maryland. Rutgers Deshawn Freeman made him look silly a couple different times.

Getting blown by baseline by some random Austin Peay guy is not a great look.

However, when sorting through the clips I’d created I realized all his bad tape of getting beat on-the-ball came after the first injury he suffered this year. Six games into this season OG suffered a sprained ankle. It only kept him out three games, but it is possible that he never fully recovered from it. It would make sense that he was not as good as reacting and guarding on-the-ball post ankle injury.

I’ve watched three of his first six games this year and went back and watched a bunch of his freshman year games. The only times he’s been noticeably beat on-the-ball came after his ankle injury this year. Therefore, I am “throwing out the tape” on these games — at least when it comes to his ability to move laterally and guard on the ball. It is understandable if you don’t feel comfortable doing this, but having watched closely it really makes sense that he might have never truly recovered from his ankle injury (which could also be a possible cause for his eventual knee injury due to an imbalance in stability).

With that issue in mind, OG looks like a world-class on-ball defender in the “relevant” tape. Not just a good one, but possibly the best on-ball defensive wing in recent NBA history. Have we ever before seen someone who could theoretically do as good a job on Chris Paul as they could do on Blake Griffin? Yet also have the tracking skills to shut down a J.J. Redick or Klay Thompson?

Kawhi is the obvious counterargument. As blasphemous as it is though, OG’s leaping ability allows him to bother shots and guard bigger players in a way Kawhi cannot. OG is not likely to be a better on-ball defender than Kawhi, but it is not a possibility that should be totally dismissed.

Not only is OG’s absolutely elite defensive profile undersold, but his offense is also underrated.

NCAA box plus-minus is far from a perfect stat. It is extremely rife with flaws. Still, when supposed offensive “zero” OG Anunoby posts an offensive BPM of 4.0 as an 18-year-old freshman and 5.4 as a 19-year-old sophomore while Josh Jackson’s OBPM was 5.1, Jayson Tatum’s was 3.5, and Jonathan Isaac’s was 4.7, some questions should be raised. It bears repeating, box plus-minus is not that good of a stat. I don’t think OG is a better offensive prospect than any of those wings — or even all that close. It is nonetheless worth examining whether OG is better offensively than he is generally perceived as.

The first reason OG is better than his reputation is that his finishing and straight line attacking are legitimately great. The always great Cole Zwicker has pointed this out on twitter recently, and I could not agree more. OG shot 70.1% from two this year and 60.9% last year. His sample is small, but that’s still ridiculous.

He has the athleticism and extension to come up with monstrous highlights.

More importantly though, he has the bodily coordination to use his length and hops on non-dunk finishes.

He can hang and finish.

He instinctively side-steps defenders and does a good job using the basket as protection on reverses.

He even can do the same thing with his left hand.

Or finish through contact with his left.

And even finish with a lefty scoop off a straight line attack.

More than just having the ability to finish, OG has advanced footwork around the basket for someone who is so raw in so many other aspects. This type of instinctual pivot move is something you’d expect from a polished scorer.

This lightness on his feet, which is what makes him so good on defense, also allows him to play some in the post.

Both of the following plays come against weak competition and smaller defenders. But given OG’s strength and explosion it is possible to envision him actually using these decisive and powerful moves in an NBA setting.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a young Shaq on our hands. (this was intentionally laughably hyperbolic).

On this play, you can see how OG’s post game might look against actual defenders. He winds up missing the shot, but his first step and length allow him to create a shot that not many guys can.

This is not to say that I expect OG Anunoby to turn into an isolation star like Kawhi. He has no ability to shoot off-the-dribble whatsoever, and his ball handling is as poor as you will see for an NBA wing prospect. He lacks any type of dribble moves or change of direction with the ball in his hands.

Nevertheless, if you put OG in situations where he does not have to dribble much he can be quite effective. Attacking closeouts in straight lines, playing in transition, and finishing cuts and dump-offs are the obvious situations. Playing in the post or playing as a roll-man may seem less obvious, but are areas in which OG has the tools to succeed. His physicality and coordination on the move are fantastic, and he even could play above-the-rim for lobs.

A big part of why OG could actually be utilized in post and pick-and-roll situations is that he is not a terrible passer. He’s not a good one by any means, but he shows signs of being able to make obvious reads and not being a turnover machine.

Check out these two simple kick-outs. They both show an aptitude for swinging the ball on offense that is important for a role-player like OG.

If we compare OG’s distribution stats to this year’s more offensive-minded wings and other non-shooting “no-offense” types he comes out pretty well.

All players last NCAA year used

Among all the “true wings,” OG fits right in. Meanwhile, he clearly outperforms the more big man-esque Roberson and Aminu who played similar roles as him in college.

Being an acceptable passer matters. When it comes to OG, there is not enough of a sample to say with confidence how good of a ball-mover he is. That he looks significantly better than some of the guys he is most frequently compared to is important though, and overall OG’s offensive IQ/feel don’t strike me as terrible.

OG’s small sample issues carry over into the big question about his future, which is his shooting. A quick comparison against other non-shooting prospects does little to clear the water.

All players NCAA career numbers used

OG actually took a fair amount of threes per minute, he just played so many fewer minutes than most of his peers that he really doesn’t have that much sample as a shooter. The good news is, it’s probably fair to put OG a tier above guys like RHJ, MKG, and Aaron Gordon who showed no aptitude for three-point shooting whatsoever. The bad news is, guys like Tony Allen, Aminu, and Roberson haven’t exactly been lighting the nets on fire in the NBA.

It would be foolish of me to claim with any confidence how OG will shoot in the NBA. His low FT%, fact that he doesn’t shoot off-the-dribble at all, and somewhat ugly form with such a low release point are all negative indicators. His volume per minute (particularly this season where he shot 4.5 3PA/40), three-point percentage, and non-completely broken form all are reasons for optimism.

A shot like this is pretty encouraging. He’s a few feet beyond the arc, he’s not wide-open where he needs to shoot it, and it’s early in the shot clock. It might have just been a stupid shot on his part, but that he had the confidence to shoot it says something.

There’s not a clear conclusion to this section. Whether or not OG shoots it is pretty much impossible to say, but the difference between him being a consistent 35% shooter from three and a 30% one is hugely important. Based on his volume in college, he is not going to be a complete non-threat a la MKG who doesn’t even take threes. He also still might be someone opponents completely ignore in the playoffs like Roberson.

The key takeaway is that outside of shooting, OG looks like a better offensive prospect than the guys he’s most typically compared to. His ability to play as a finisher around the rim, attack some in straight lines, move the ball effectively, and at least present some threat from beyond the arc is a better package than Aminu, Roberson, Kidd-Gilchrist, or Hollis-Jefferson had coming out of college.

If he doesn’t shoot it, he is still going to be a clear negative on offense. Even so, differences in how negative are important, and if he does manage to shoot decently he has the chance to be a useful offensive role-player.

The intersection of transcendent defense and even decent offense is a rare one. Given how optimistic I am about OG’s offense, if I expected his defense to be all-world it would be hard to justify not having him top-5 on my board. However, there is a reason only OG’s on-ball defense was focused on in the above section.

All players last season before entering the draft used — Per 40 Pace Adjusted

What should stand out are OG’s defensive rebounding numbers. He’s second worst in terms of both defensive rebounding percentage and defensive rebounds per 40. Jimmy Butler is far worse, but when looking at this data there seems to be a correlation between off-ball defensive ability and defensive rebounding.

It is worth noting that Iguodala and Kidd-Gilchrist’s numbers underestimate their ability because both of them played small forward in college while the rest of these guys played the 4.

The best defensive rebounders are the guys you associate with always being in the right place and flying all over the floor. Draymond, Kawhi, and Roberson all are fantastic off-ball defenders. Butler and George are more individual stoppers than they are great team defenders. Aminu, Gordon, and Hollis-Jefferson are probably somewhere in-between. OG appears to fall in the Butler/George group.

Obviously, there’s not a perfect relationship between defensive rebounding and off-ball defensive acumen. It does make sense that there would be a relationship between the two though. Defensive rebounding requires spatial awareness, recognition skills, the ability to anticipate moving parts (both the ball and other players), and effort. All of those things are crucial in off-ball defense as well.

It is difficult to find tape revealing OG’s off-ball deficiencies. The point here is not that he’s terrible and gets lost off-ball all the time. Instead, it is that he’s not elite like Draymond, Kawhi, Roberson, or Iguodala. He doesn’t just fly all over the floor making incredible rotation after incredible rotation. OG’s weaknesses most obviously show up in transition. It makes sense that the chaotic nature of transition would reveal a player’s inability to be a step ahead of moving parts.

On this first play, OG is late to see the shooter breaking open in the corner and doesn’t get there in time. Again, this isn’t a *bad* play per say, but it is the type of play elite off-ball guys make.

Here we something similar. OG doesn’t anticipate how the play is going to unfold until it is too late.

Might as well re-enforce the idea one more time since I have the clip. OG’s should have recognized and picked up the big man diving to the hoop.

Occasionally, OG’s lack of awareness will show up glaringly on the glass.

He doesn’t get burned on defense very often, but when he does it is due to a lack of awareness. Picking up on back screens like this is crucial to guarding a team like the Warriors.

Okay, so now that you’ve (hopefully) been convinced of OG’s immense defensive strengths, as well as his more mediocre parts, it is time to evaluate what type of overall impact he can have.

Paul George is a good reference point to look at OG in terms of expected impact (not style). George’s slightly better rebounding numbers can be explained away by his worse teammates (playing next to Thomas Bryant is different than a 6'8 Fresno State center), and they are similarly adept at both guarding on the perimeter and making plays in the passing lanes. They are also both similarly average as off-ball defenders. Where OG has an advantage is his ability to guard on the interior.

OG is both much stronger and more of a rim protector than George was at the same stage. As a result, he could provide additional value protecting the paint and switching onto bigs that PG could not. So, how good of a defensive player are we talking?

George peaked as a defender before his gruesome leg injury. By Box Plus-Minus, his best defensive season was +2.9 per 100 possessions in 2012/13 and he hovered around +2 in his other seasons. Similarly, the only relevant RPM season is his 13/14 campaign where he posted a +2.58 DRPM.

If nothing goes dramatically wrong for OG, a +2 — +3 outcome on defense seems entirely realistic. There is even some chance that his outlier one-on-one defense elevates him into the +3 — +4 range in peak seasons.

Offensively, it is probably most fair to compare OG to Aminu. No one is a perfect comparison obviously, but Aminu is similarly sized to OG, also was very effective as a finisher around the hoop in college, and has had some mixed mildly positive shooting results as a pro. Aminu was more voluminous as a college scorer, but OG was more efficient in his role and better from an assist to turnover perspective.

Anyway, Aminu has hovered around a -0.5 — (-1.5) offensive player by various metrics over the course of his career. Put together, with decent outcomes on both side of the ball OG looks somewhere around a ~+1.5 player with some upside to get above +2. That is not to mention his far greater upside if for some reason his shot developed in an unexpected way. To be clear, this is not a floor outcome for OG. He could easily be worse on either side of the ball, but it is a very realistic outcome that should be considered.

It is also worth noting that using a strict expected offensive rating/defensive rating methodology is not always correct. OG is the type of player who can be more valuable than his raw numbers suggest to an elite team because he both plays defense and doesn’t use possessions on offense. He also can lose value in the playoffs if he’s not shooting well and a team chooses to completely ignore him on offense.

Regardless, a thorough analysis of both ends of the ball indicates that OG is underrated. Both for his upside and for his more middling outcomes. He is certainly raw, but he is also immensely talented in a variety of ways on both ends of the floor. I don’t see enough offensive upside or quite Kawhi-level all-around defense to justify a top-5 pick, but OG looks like a clear top-10 pick based on his chance to play a valuable role for a true contender.