Who is OG Anunoby and who should he model his game after?

The Toronto Raptors selected Indiana sophomore Ogugua “OG” Anunoby with the 23rd pick in the 2017 NBA draft.

Here’s what you need to know about him.

(Editor’s note: This piece is structured in three parts that starts with the cliff notes profile, then dives into a FAQ about his game, before ending on a longer essay.)

Scouting profile

Strengths

  • Excellent athlete
  • Ability to guard multiple positions
  • Disruptive defender
  • Strong base to hold position in post
  • Powerful leaper in space
  • Quick like a guard, long like a center (Shouts to Nik Stauskas for being big like Klay, shoots like Steph)
  • Can attack closeout with a dribble move

Weaknesses

  • Can’t create his own offense
  • Functional but limited dribble; mostly tries to back into the lane
  • Slow, inconsistent shot (27–74 3PT, 47–90 FT)
  • Suffered ACL injury in January

Lazy NBA comparison

Ceiling: Draymond Green
Realistic: Trevor Ariza
Floor: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

What’s his elite skill?

Defensive versatility and athleticism. Anunoby is the ideal modern defender who is comfortable guarding both on the perimeter and in the paint. His 7–3 wingspan rivals that of centers (for reference: Jakob Poeltl’s wingspan is also 7–3) , while his quick feet allows him to stick with guards.

“I feel like athletic enough, strong enough, and smart enough to defend every position,” Anunoby said at his Raptors introductory press scrum.

Anunoby was frequently asked to switch on ball screens in college, so he spent plenty of time chasing around point guards. He showed great technique in sliding his feet, cutting off penetration, then using his go-go gadget arms to challenge shots.

Anunoby forces Kansas guard Frank Mason III (one of the best guards in college; №34 to SAC) and Josh Jackson (№4 to PHX) into some wild misses.

What separates Anunoby from other wing defenders is his thick lower body. His strong base allows him to body up bigs in the post. He also weighs 232 pounds and wields a 9-foot standing reach so he’s not giving up size to most power forwards and even some smallball centers.

Anunoby repeatedly stonewalls Wisconsin center Nigel Hayes (undrafted FA to NYK) in the post. The 22-year-old Hayes weighs 255 lbs and ranks among the best low-post scorers in college. Three years his junior, Anunoby concedes nothing.

Dwane Casey called Anunoby a “PJ Tucker clone”, which doesn’t sound that flattering for a first-round pick, but given how much Casey respects Tucker, one should take this as a compliment. He will be an extremely valuable defender at the pro level.

What does he need to work on?

Defense will get Anunoby into a rotation, but he needs a credible jumper to become a starting caliber player.

Anunoby only played 50 games in college (minus tournament appearances) which leaves a very limited sample to draw from. Nevertheless his shooting profile (27–74 3PT, 47–90 FT) is uninspiring. He almost exclusively tried uncontested spot-up threes and generally stayed within himself on offense.

The biggest issue with his jumper is that it’s deliberate and slow. He brings it down first before launching his motion. His mechanics are mostly fluid, but he keeps the ball in front of him and this might limit how often he can fire.

Anunoby won’t become a dead-eye shooter, but the ability to make standstill threes, and hopefully some pick-and-pop looks, will allow him to stay on the floor for important moments. Keeping the defense honest as a credible off-ball threat would be a huge development.

It will also be important for Anunoby to improve his screening — which is quite poor — to create space in the offense. This might speak to a lack of experience since he wasn’t asked to do much else besides very basic dribble hand-offs and some rudimentary post ups in college. He’s a strong finisher, has good hands, and is comfortable taking a few dribbles, which should make for an intriguing roll target.

What should I know about his injury?

Anunoby tore his ACL in January which ended both his collegiate career and Indiana’s season. This is the main reason why his draft stock dropped. Anunoby believes he would have otherwise gone top-five.

It’s unclear as to when Anunoby will be ready to return. Playing summer league is definitely out of the question, but hopefully he can recover in time for training camp. That experience for a rookie — especially someone raw like Anunoby — is invaluable. But there’s not necessarily any reason to rush. Anunoby probably won’t crack the rotation this season, barring injuries elsewhere, and will likely spend most of the year with the Raptors 905.

Anunoby met with Raptors Director of Sports Science Alex McKechnie to arrange a rehab plan earlier this week. Reports suggest that Anunoby is ahead of schedule and that he should be able to return for September or October. That would be fantastic.

What position does he play?

Anunoby is a big on offense and a wing on defense.

His offense will come off kickout passes, transition scores, putbacks and the occasional drive to the rim against a closeout. He will not be a feature player, especially not in Toronto’s system. But he should be a disruptive defender that sparks runouts with blocks and steals.

Anunoby will most likely defend wings on most nights, but he should see plenty of time switched onto other positions. Given the never-ending nightmare that is bigger wings running roughshod over the Raptors defense, expect Anunoby to play the power-three position once held by James Johnson.

Watch this

A man doesn’t call himself OG without backing it up. This shit is nasty.

Another one.

What role will he play next season? In 3 years?

The Raptors expressed confidence that Anunoby will crack the rotation fairly quickly, but I find that doubtful. Given the Raptors’ dire need for shooters, I see no reason why Anunoby would immediately hop ahead of DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, or DeMarre Carroll.

The likeliest outcome will see Anunoby down the 905 for most of the season, similar to how the Raptors treated Pascal Siakam, who was older and more polished when he was first drafted. Finding Anunoby as many reps as possible is key, especially since he played so sparingly in college. Rubbing in some seasoning from 905 coach Jerry Stackhouse is also a plus. Everyone could use some Stackhouse in their life.

Anunoby is basketball’s version of Eevee. His role in three years largely depends on how the franchise chooses to develop him. His raw tools should allow him to play either forward position, or even some smallball center if he continues to grow.

He needs to improve his handle, his passing and his outside shot to play on the perimeter. If he wants to play inside, Anunoby needs to become a better rebounder and learn to screen and move without the ball. Ideally, he could be a versatile low-usage forward who can do a bit of everything.

Miscellaneous

  • He doesn’t need a nickname, but please call him Mo-G Anunoby shouts to Halal Gang.
  • Anunoby’s favorite player is Kawhi Leonard, who he models his game after. Try not to get too excited (too late).
  • He doesn’t say much during interviews, and his very few words are always delivered with an unflappably flat affect. His responses are unintentionally hilarious.
  • He loves plain cheesecake.
  • He was born in London, UK, and grew up in Missouri. His parents are Nigerian. Shouts to all the Nigerians prospering worldwide.
  • His brother Chigbo Anunoby played in the NFL.
  • He wears short shorts.
  • This tweet:

Why Draymond should be the goal for OG (an essay on the modern NBA)

The last decade of NBA basketball can be explained through its simplest play: the pick-and-roll.

The high ball screen is meant to generate a momentary 2-on-1, 3-on-2, or a 4-on-3 advantage for the offense to attack. The defense wants to do the opposite. What follows is a game of chess.

Four years ago, when SportVU data first emerged, the hottest commodity was rim protection. Roy Hibbert — an otherwise chunky center with limited scoring talents — was heralded as the great undervalued commodity for all the points he saved with his shot contests at the basket. His Indiana Pacers nearly knocked off LeBron James with that formula.

Why was rim protection so important? It was always useful, but it became especially valuable since teams shifted more and more towards playing pick-and-roll with the goal of scoring at the basket. Either the ball handler would get to the rim, or he would drop the pocket pass to the roller who would try to finish. The stars of that time were slashers like Derrick Rose and finishers like Tyson Chandler.

The best defense against that strategy was the ICE defense coined by Tom Thibodeau. By keeping ball-handlers from going middle, and dropping the defending big into space, the only uncontested shot available would be a pull-up jumper — typically from the mid-range.

What was especially remarkable about this strategy was that it kept help defense to a minimum. Fewer rotations meant fewer opportunities for breakdowns to occur. But you needed a smart and sturdy center to execute this strategy.

Hibbert was perfect. He would drop, limit dribble penetration from the guard, while also staying attached to the roll man. When attackers made a move towards the rim, Hibbert would jump straight up and use his gargantuan body to absorb contact and affect the shot without fouling.

The league eventually adapted to this strategy once they ran the numbers and found the one fatal flaw in this strategy: the 3-pointer. A 40 percent jumper from the midrange wasn’t very useful since that’s 0.8 points per shot (ignoring fouls and offensive rebounds) but making a 3-pointer at the same rate yields 1.2 points, which is suddenly a dangerous play.

The 3-point shift didn’t happen all at once. It first started with the open pick-and-pop, which saw every big in the league launch unsightly 15-footers. Think Carlos Boozer and LaMarcus Aldridge. But soon they moved even further, stepping beyond the arc for 3’s by the likes of Channing Frye and Ryan Anderson.

This shift coincided with a change in attitude with respect to the pull-up three, which was once frowned upon as lazy and bad offense. But this was always the overlooked piece in Mike D’Antoni’s revolutionary spread pick-and-roll offenses. If bigs were going to drop back to check the drive, that left the open pull-up for a guard. If Steve Nash looked for his shot more often, he could have easily averaged 25 points a night.

A decade after the SSOL Suns, Steph Curry and the Warriors perfected this formula to launch the greatest three-year regular season run in NBA history. Curry now holds two MVPs and two titles.

Granted, it was still up to the guard to make that shot, but the attitude shift coincided with the arrival of shooters like Curry and Damian Lillard who had limitless range off the dribble. Once given the freedom to be aggressive, the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll guard became the focus of the offense. These types are now everywhere: Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, Kemba Walker, Isaiah Thomas, James Harden — every team has one.

ICE defense simply doesn’t cover this move (especially if shooters can do the Harden flop for three free throws at the slightest bit of contact around a screen). Climbing over or under a screen against a shooter just wasn’t working, and having the big step up to challenge risked a blow-by with no rim protectors present. Sending help from a third player worked for a bit, but now every wing can shoot threes, so the help defense has to be honest or extremely diligent in their rotations.

To combat this, the league broke another one of its taboos and embraced switching. Again, this was considered lazy and soft, but it was the lesser evil. The entire point of running a high screen is to generate that momentary advantage where one player is behind, but switching swaps that threat for the opportunity to attack a mismatch.

Someone like Lillard can get his shot off anytime against plodders like Hibbert, but a fleet-footed center who can stay abreast on the perimeter like Draymond Green is a tougher challenge.

This is the current state of affairs when it comes to pick-and-roll strategy in the NBA. Draymond is the most valuable defensive player against modern offenses, just as Hibbert was the perfect foil to how teams attacked three years ago, because that’s what the strategy dictates. Draymond is the right player at the right time.

Everyone wants the long-armed tweener forward who can guard five positions, is quick and smart enough to play on the perimeter, long enough to contest shots at the rim, strong enough to not get abused on post-ups, while also being energetic enough to secure defensive rebounds. It’s an incredibly rare and niche collection of skills that only a small handful of players have. Almost all of them are power-threes (ie: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala) or mobile power forwards (ie: Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Tristan Thompson).

None of them are Draymond.

It’s unfair to expect anyone to become Draymond.

Asking someone to defend like Draymond is like asking someone to shoot like Steph — it’s ridiculous. One does not simply have the frame to play like Draymond, the defensive acumen, the relentless attitude, and the humility to embrace the dirty work as a defense-first star. Draymond is an elite player not only because of his unique situation, but because he is uniquely talented.

It’s more appropriate to say that Draymond is the blueprint for how modern defenders should aspire to.

Building Anunoby into an all-consuming, five-out stopper would be an incredible asset in the modern NBA. Minus the barrel chest and the dick kicking, Anunoby has all of Draymond’s physical tools. Anunoby is just as mobile, his motor is similar (although he’s more muted), he’s strong enough to stone bigs, and he flashed impressive defensive instincts to guard multiple positions as a sophomore.

(Measurements from DX; Draymond in 2012, OG in 2017)

But a word of caution for the Raptors: the goal is to set trends, not follow them. That’s how you fall behind.

Case in point: Four years ago, the Raptors wanted Jonas Valanciunas — once a spry and nimble center — to bulk up and learn the principle of verticality. In so many words, they wanted Valanciunas to adopt Hibbert’s ability to contest shots at the basket because that’s what the NBA game valued at the time. Valanciunas needed to get bigger to execute that strategy.

Valanciunas never quite grasped the tricky task of defensive positioning, but he did successfully bulk up to Hibbert’s size. But while Valanciunas got bigger, the game got smaller, to the point now where Valanciunas became a liability. In retrospect, it would have been much better if Valanciunas stayed skinny and quick.

The moral in the tragedy of Valanciunas is that chasing the wrong trends leaves you even further behind. Draymond is what today’s game demands, and therefore it makes sense to shape Anunoby in his image, but the game might look entirely different a few years from now.

Having the foresight to see where basketball is headed next will be the biggest key in Anunoby’s development.