Why expanded offensive game OG Anunoby flashed vs. Lakers is a big deal

Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby. (Laurence Kesterson/AP)

Early in the first quarter of the Toronto Raptors’ 107-92 restart-opening victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, OG Anunoby received a pass from Pascal Siakam at the left-wing area, got into triple-threat stance with the ball and immediately recognized the oncoming Anthony Davis heading his way to close out on what was looking like a semi-open three-point look.

Normally in circumstances like this, Anunoby would historically either hoist the shot up, if he was confident he had enough daylight to get a good attempt off, or look to pass out if he wasn’t as confident.

With the shot clock winding down to single digits in the possession, Davis opted to more aggressively close out Anunoby taking an aggressive step towards him when he received the ball preparing to make a shot contest, only something completely different happened.

As soon as the Raptors forward touched the ball, he immediately put it onto the floor heading towards the key, surprising Davis and forcing him to recover back while on his heels a bit. Then, Anunoby hit Davis with yet another surprise when he spun off his right shoulder and got a left-handed layup off so fast all the three-time all-defensive team selection could do was stop and stare as the ball gently kissed off glass and fell gently into the hoop, as the Raptors got off to an explosive 10-0 run to start the game.

This sequence of Anunoby’s was part of a 23-point explosion from the third-year forward that saw him go 8-of-9 from the field and a perfect 3-for-3 from three-point range in Saturday’s contest, and it acts as a perfect microcosm of the kind of leap Anunoby’s taken as a player since the season hiatus.

Now confident in his ability to put the ball on the floor, and in his ball-handling, Anunoby’s unlocked a whole new dimension of his game and he and the Raptors can only benefit from this.

Take another look at that move Anunoby hit Davis with and you’ll instantly understand why. Davis shaded toward Anunoby expecting the three-point attempt because that’s what he would normally do — something Anunoby took full advantage of by opting to drive. With this new wrinkle in his game defenders now must think twice about closing out on him hard, opening up so much more for Anunoby offensively than ever before.

In particular, it adds a new layer to what the Raptors can look to do offensively in terms of options with Anunoby on the floor.

Take a look at these two clips below:

Anunoby got fouled in the second clip you see above and hit both free throws. But more importantly, in both of these clips we can see Anunoby in the exact same right-corner spot, but opting to do two different offensive actions depending on the scenario at hand, resulting in good, efficient outcomes for the Raptors.

As a 39-per-cent three-point shooter, the corners are exactly where the Raptors usually want Anunoby to be spaced out in offensive possessions. And with the improved handle he’s flashed, opponents now have to worry about not just the smart cuts or the three-point shot when Anunoby is on the floor, but also the possibility that he can penetrate and head all the way to the rack, or kick out to an open man.

It’s just made him that much more dangerous and further adds to the Raptors’ versatility on offence, by having yet another ball-handler added to their mix.

This improved handle Anunoby flashed against the Lakers was first put on display during the Raptors’ scrimmages and is something Anunoby said he’s been working on the whole year, the fruits of that labour only coming into harvest now.

Better yet for the Raptors, all this additional work Anunoby’s done to improve on the offensive end hasn’t come at the expense of his defence.

The primary defender on LeBron James Saturday night, Anunoby was seen frustrating James all game long, denying him the ball, forcing him to take out-of-rhythm jumpers and even just straight up standing his ground, forcing James into a tough look — even when only standing three feet away from the basket.

This is Anunoby’s primary role on the Raptors, as someone who the team can reliably put on the opposing team’s best player and ask to put the clamps on them. Throw in some three-point shooting and the hope always was that the Raptors would have a higher-end three-and-D option on their hands.

Now, however, with the improvements Anunoby’s made to his ball-handling and what that has opened up for him and the Raptors, it might be more appropriate to raise Anunoby’s ceiling to a player who, one day, might be able to star for the club.

For now, if the Raptors are in need of some tertiary scoring, or if Kyle Lowry and/or Pascal Siakam don’t have it going on any given night, Anunoby is a guy they can look to fill that void.

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