Raptors’ OG Anunoby showing signs of a promising shutdown defender

NBA analyst Michael Grange joins Danielle Michaud to break down the Raptors victory over the Magic, where Kyle Lowry stepped up when needed, and OG Anunoby has started the season very strong on offensive and defensive side.

TORONTO – OG Anunoby has spent time studying some of the NBA’s premier defenders past and present.

“Ron Artest, Scottie Pippen, Kawhi [Leonard], guys like that,” said Anunoby after the Toronto Raptors practised at OVO Athletic Centre Tuesday afternoon. “Draymond [Green].”

And if a recent trend holds steady, Anunoby might have to add himself to that list of great defenders.

It’s only been four games, but the early returns on Anunoby have been promising, to say the least – particularly as a possible shutdown defender.

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Coming into this season, Anunoby has been expected to match up with the opposing team’s best players, one through four. And outside of Toronto’s first game with the New Orleans Pelicans, that saw Anunoby primarily match up with Brandon Ingram and concede eight points on 3-of-6 shooting, he’s been a veritable human-like Fort Knox in the way he’s managed to lock up just about everyone else who’s had the misfortune of seeing him pick them up.

Outside of Ingram, of the players Anunoby has had at least two minutes of total matchup time defensively this season they are shooting a cumulative 7-of-19 for 21 points. This figure doesn’t seem all that impressive until you realize this was split between seven players, meaning over his last three games, the primary and secondary assignments Anunoby has seen have been held to only three points per game.

The chart below shows who each of these seven players have been and how individually effective they were against Anunoby:

Player Matchup minutes FG% Points
Aaron Gordon (Orlando Magic) 4:04 1/4 (25%) 2
Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics) 3:24 2/4 (50%) 5
Gordon Hayward (Boston Celtics) 3:13 1/3 (33.3%) 2
Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics) 2:42 1/2 (50%) 6
Al-Farouq Aminu (Orlando Magic) 2:22 1/1 (100%) 2
Otto Porter Jr. (Chicago Bulls) 2:18 1/3 (33.3%) 4
Evan Fournier (Orlando Magic) 2:05 0/2 (0%) 0

(Note: Stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats.)

“He’s playing really hard, following the game plan, being really active, really aggressive on the ball and off the ball,” said Norman Powell of Anunoby. “Really tied into the defensive foundation and what we are trying to do and playing really well.”

Yes, as Powell alluded to, Anunoby isn’t just taking care of his own man defensively, he’s also been very active lately in help situations and in reading plays to come up with a big block or steal. To be precise, Anunoby has six blocks and six steals over his last two games with four blocks alone Saturday against the Bulls and five steals Monday versus Orlando.

Anunoby said a big aspect of those defensive stalwarts mentioned before that he tried to emulate was “hand quickness and anticipation,” and by the looks of things, he’s got those down pat as evidenced by these two examples of his contest against Orlando.

“We’re just trying to pressure the ball, and he’s getting really good at that, at getting his body on people,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “He’s locked in, he’s pressuring. They’re trying to take it multiple dribbles right in front of him and he poked his hand in there a few times last night and knocked it away from them.”

But it isn’t just Anunoby’s defence that’s impressed thus far, offensively, he looks to be taking another leap as well averaging 12.3 points and shooting a scorching 43.8 per cent from deep and 53.8 per cent from the field overall.

His strong shooting percentages have been a testament of the kind of shots he takes. As this shot chart below demonstrates, Anunoby is about as analytically sound offensively as they come as he only attempts either three-pointers or looks in the paint.

All of Artest – better known as Metta World Peace, of course – Pippen, Leonard and Green also threatened on the offensive end nearly as much as they caused havoc defensively. Anunoby looks to be reaching that level right now.

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Quick Dribbles

• Alex McKechnie, the Raptors’ maestro of load management, as Michael Grange reported last season, got a contract extension and a promotion to vice-president, player health and performance.

• In regards to McKechnie’s promotion, Powell told an anecdote that immediately tells you how valuable an asset he is:

“My second year, I had really bad back pain coming out of the series with Cleveland, going into the summer. He did — I don’t even know what you’d call it – but he did something to my back. Instantly I was able to get up and walk with no pain at all. And I was really shocked, because I was doing everything that they told you on your own to do to relieve back pain and I was still having a problem with it. After I worked with him for like 15 minutes, it was gone.”

• Said Powell of what makes McKechnie so special in his field: “It seems like he knows really how every bone, ligament, muscle works. He always has something for it to relieve that pain instantly. It seems like as soon as you work with him, he comes up with something and it works. And you just stick with it. He’s just a very knowledgeable guy, on the court, off the court.”

• When asked whether he prefers blocking shots or getting steals, Anunoby had the proper, diplomatic response: “They’re both cool.”

Patrick McCaw made his season debut against Orlando on Monday, playing 17 minutes and scoring three points on 1-of-2 shooting. Despite these pedestrian numbers, Nurse, who has been high on McCaw dating back to training camp, really liked what he saw in the 24-year-old.

“[I] really like Pat as a player, he’s just such a high-level IQ guy,” said Nurse. “He’s always making the right play on defence, he brings a little bit of juice on offence because of his cutting and his passing on offence, and he’s really got great feet. He can chase people and get underneath them and slide his feet and put some heat on some people.”

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