Around this time last year, the hype for OG Anunoby’s sophomore season was so hyped it was nearly tangible.
How could it not be?
Anunoby was coming off a rookie campaign that saw him start 62 games and shoot 37.1 per cent from three-point range, all while showing glimpses of how his chiseled six-foot-eight frame and seven-foot-six wingspan can become a nightmare for opposing wings he’s defending.
The only thing standing in Anunoby’s way from having a monster sophomore year was some bad luck (injuries or otherwise) that would see him miss games.
And that, unfortunately, is exactly what happened to the then-21-year-old.
Anunoby missed 15 games in the regular season because of personal issues and concussion-like symptoms, and just when it looked like things were going to turn a corner for him at the end of the season and the playoffs about to start, he needed to have an emergency appendectomy after being diagnosed with acute appendicitis, a procedure and recovery that kept him out of the entire 2019 post-season – and championship – run.
And so, after a summer off to completely recover and get himself back to 100 per cent, Anunoby has people feeling a serious case of déjà vu as he’s entered Toronto’s 2019 training camp.
Once again there’s been non-stop talk about how we should all expect great things from Anunoby this season.
“OG had a very unlucky year last year, I think, and he’s had a very good summer and pre-season in terms of just training before today,” said Raptors president Masai Ujiri on media day. “We’re excited about that.”
Added head coach Nick Nurse: “[Anunoby’s] a guy who’s gonna have a good year. He’s really in good shape. His body looks great, he’s healthy. His mindset seems to be really free and clear and happy. He’s out there playing with a little more of a smile on his face in the pick-up games I saw in the last few weeks and he’s gonna have a great year.”
Yes, once again, optimism is palpable for Anunonby, now just 22 years old.
The question remains: Should we be sipping the OG Kool-Aid again?
The answer: Yes, because the Raptors are going to need it — and not just because they opted to pick up the $3.87-million club option on him for the 2020-21 season, either.
At the moment, with the roster as currently constructed, this Raptors team is looking like a squad that can likely push for a seed anywhere within the No. 4-6 range, and if they’re going to accomplish this – and maybe aim higher – an Anunoby jump will be required.
It doesn’t have to be Siakam-level, but there needs to be improvement and progress shown from Anunoby.
As mentioned earlier, Anunoby flashed big potential of how he can be a difference-maker on both ends of the floor. This season is setting up to hopefully be an-off-the-court distraction and injury-free one and as such flashes won’t be good enough.
Anunoby figures to step right into the starting three spot – where one Kawhi Leonard used to be – and will be relied upon more as both a spot-up shooter and as a slasher offensively, while also probably given the assignment of covering an opposing team’s best perimeter player.
Defensively, there should be no issue with Anunoby as he’s proven he has all the tools to potentially become an NBA All-Defensive player, offensively, though, there are definite question marks.
Coming out of college at Indiana, Anunoby was best compared to P.J. Tucker because of his athleticism, defensive acumen and three-point accuracy. So far, only his defence has shown to be a true consistent attribute.
His three-point stroke regressed mightily last season (down to 33.2 per cent) and, most troubling, his possibly overwhelming athletic and strength advantages he has over opponents haven’t manifested into what should be a strong drive and slashing game.
These are areas that must improve and, optimistically speaking, they will.
Anunoby is still 22 and had such a weird, up-and-down sophomore season that it’s fair to just write it off as an anomaly.
So be hopeful for Anunoby because his third year will be more like what was supposed to be his second year, only with a lot more opportunity to be had with Leonard out of the picture.
It’s OK to expect great things of him this season.