TORONTO — Upon hitting the biggest shot of the Toronto Raptors’ 2019-20 campaign — the buzzer-beating game-winner with just 0.5 seconds left in Game 3 of the team’s second-round series with the Boston Celtics — OG Anunoby had one of the all-time deadpan reactions to it, walking away like nothing happened while his team mobbed him.
Then, immediately after the game, his reaction to drilling that shot with so much emotion around and the stakes involved, he offered up this equally-as-great stone-faced nuggets:
“When I took that shot I expected to make it. I don’t shoot trying to miss.”
“It was cool. Just getting ready for Game 4 now.”
Since then, Anunoby has had time to reflect on that big shot, but ultimately, keeps perspective given the final outcome of the series with Boston.
“It was a cool moment looking back on it,” Anunoby said of that shot Friday in a Zoom call. “It was exciting, it was fun, but then we lost the series, so…”
Clearly, Anunoby isn’t one to dwell on the past, but given the changes to the Raptors this off-season, even he reflected a little on what was.
“I was surprised too,” said Anunoby of Serge Ibaka’s departure from the club. “I thought Serge was going to come back. I don’t know what went down or what went into the decision and stuff, but like I thought Serge would be back. I’m happy for him. He seems happy, so good for him.”
Though there’s no hard feeling for his former teammate’s decision, Anunoby is going to miss having Ibaka around as a reliable veteran he could lean on.
“From even when I was a rookie Serge would always talk to me about taking care of my body, on-court work, stuff I need to be working on, how I need to be eating,” Anunoby said. “So he did a good job looking out for me all my three years with him. So it's gonna be weird without him, but I'll still keep in contact with him.”
Now entering his fourth season in the league all with the Raptors, with all the fresh faces around Anunoby is a player who might be looked to as a leader on the team.
Though it would be a new role for him, it’s one he’s quietly been preparing for throughout his career.
“I think every year in the league I try to be a better leader than I was the year before,” he said. “I try to show the younger guys the way. They need help, they can ask me. And then I think I lead by example more than like a guy who is yelling and screaming. I just try to do things the right way. Like, I know how we do things or what’s supposed to go on or how we’re supposed to do drills in practice.
“So just show the guys who don’t know that they can watch me and figure it out or they can ask me for help and I’ll help them.”
Anunoby said he took cues doing this from his older teammates doing the same for him and so he’ll look to pay that forward with, as he mentioned, his on-court play and demeanour.
Losing a player like Ibaka means there will potentially be more shots available for other players and Anunoby is a guy who could naturally take some of those looks this season.
“Yeah, I think so,” Anunoby said when asked if he expects to take on a bigger offensive role this coming season. “Just being more aggressive, looking for my own shot, looking to get other people involved. Just trying to do more.”
It’s an encouraging sign to hear Anunoby being as assertive as he sounded Friday in regards to what he’ll be able to contribute offensively. Always a reliable, oftentimes lockdown defender, Anunoby has only shown glimpses of what could be a strong offensive game to complement all that plus defence he brings.
He took a step last season showing an improved handle which allowed him to put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket, opening up his spot-up three-point shooting game, and this season he’ll probably look to do more of the same, just more consistently.
Anunoby will likely be given the proper opportunity to prove himself in this regard this season and he’ll figure to have the right motivation as well.
A big piece of unfinished off-season business yet to be decided upon is determining whether to give Anunoby a contract extension or not. His deal will expire at the end of this coming season and the Raptors will have until Dec. 21 to decide whether to extend him or look to take care of business with him next off-season when he’ll be a restricted free agent.
When asked about extension talks, Anunoby said he stays out of those kinds of conversations, but his agent, Omar Wilkes, has been in talks with the Raptors.
“Omar's been talking to them. I guess we'll see when it gets closer. Omar just handles that.”
Regardless if Anunoby signs an extension or decides to go into free agency, he’ll stand to benefit from a big offensive year with numbers that support the kind of potential he appears to have.
If the Raptors extend him, a big year proving he’s worth whatever number he comes in at. It would be a great sign of confidence from him to the team, and if he does decide to enter next off-season without an extension a strong season will obviously be good for him.
Overall, Anunoby is entering this coming season from an advantageous position: A possible contract year where he’ll likely be given more offensive opportunity and responsibility on a young team that he’s been a key part of for a little while now.
All Anunoby has to do is make good on all of this.
And if he stumbles a bit? Well then, it’ll just be onto the next then, won’t it?