Toronto Raptors

How Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby can break out — again

Ahead of the season, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype asked 15 NBA executives who they believe will make the biggest individual leap in 2021-22.

He didn't top the list, but Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby earned the fourth-highest percentage of votes, trailing only Cleveland Cavaliers guard Darius Garland, Memphis Grizzlies big man Jaren Jackson Jr. and San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson.

It speaks to Anunoby's potential that he finished as high as he did because he's already coming off a breakout season of sorts. Injuries limited him to only 43 games, but he averaged career-highs across the board of 15.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.5 steals in 33.3 minutes per game in 2020-21. He shot a career-high from both the 3-point line (.398) and free throw line (.784) as well.

Opportunity is a big reason why many think Anunoby could take another leap this season. Pascal Siakam is expected to miss the start of the season as he continues to recover from undergoing shoulder surgery this summer and the Raptors will be without Kyle Lowry, who has long been the heart and soul of this team.

Even with Fred VanVleet returning and the addition of Goran Dragic, Anunoby should have a more featured role on offence this season.

With that in mind, what would another leap look like for Anunoby? Let's take a closer look.

Diversify as a shooter

Anunoby has proven himself to be a reliable 3-point shooter to this stage of his career.

In 2019-20, Anunoby attempted 3.3 3-point attempts per game and converted them at a 39.0 percent clip. At the time, both of those were the highest marks of his career. He then almost doubled his output (6.1 3-point attempts per game) while knocking them down at an almost identical rate (39.8 percent) this past season.

That development - increasing his volume significantly without a dip in efficiency - shouldn't go unnoticed.

The next step for Anunoby is to diversify as a shooter. Up until this point of his career, almost all of his jump shots have been of the catch-and-shoot variety, making him reliant on his teammates to create those opportunities for him. In 2017-18, he attempted a total of 17 jump shots off the dribble. That number has increased in each of the last three seasons (31 in 2018-19, 39 in 2019-20, 68 in 2020-21) and yet pull-up jumpers still make up a small portion of his shot attempts.

In other words, when Anunoby does put the ball on the floor, it's almost always to attack the basket. There's not much of an in-between to his game.

Developing a tighter handle would help Anunoby in that regard. Standing at 6-foot-7 and 232 pounds, he relies more on his strength to get places than his speed and shiftiness. (More on that strength in a minute). Not to compare him to Norman Powell, who has developed into one of the more well-rounded shooters at his position, but Anunoby's limitations as a shot creator show when you put a video of him attacking a closeout...

...next to one of Powell doing the same.

There's a chance Anunoby will never be a big-time shooter off the dribble - he's already an incredibly valuable player without it thanks to his 3-point shooting and ball-hawking defence - but any strides he does make would open the door for him to create more for himself, whether it's in isolation or out of the pick-and-roll. That's why it was encouraging to see him let it fly more down the stretch of last season.

Of the 68 pull-up jumpers Anunoby attempted on the season, 47 came after the All-Star break. The results weren't pretty (29.8 percent), but simply looking for those shots is a step in the right direction.

The Raptors can only hope that's a sign of what's to come.

Embrace bully ball

I've been intrigued by Anunoby's post game for a while now.

It's never been a big part of his game, but it's something Anunoby is growing more and more comfortable with. Per NBA.com, he's gone from averaging 0.3 post-up possessions per game in 2018-19 to 0.5 in 2019-20 and 0.9 in 2020-21. Once again, the results haven't been anything of note - Anunoby ranked in the 12th percentile with 0.65 points per post-up possession last season, much of which came down to him having a sky-high turnover rate in those situations - but it's not hard to see the appeal.

For one, Anunoby is built like a brick house. He has a huge size advantage over most guards and he'll even take it to centers.

Both of these end in him getting his shot blocked, but it's clear Anunoby has no fear attacking Bam Adebayo...

...or Larry Nance Jr., both of whom are quite a bit bigger than him.

Two, Anunoby flashed some skill operating out of the post down the stretch of last season.

It's hard not to think about what could be when you see him confidently drain a midrange jumper over Chris Paul.

Or hit a turnaround over Pat Connaughton.

Or lose Mason Plumlee with a well-timed step back.

Or school Michael Porter Jr. on a face-up drive.

Not that anyone should expect Anunoby to look like a modern-day Hakeem Olajuwon anytime soon, but becoming more comfortable in the post would give him another avenue to create for himself in the halfcourt. It'll be particularly important if the Raptors experiment more with using him as a screen-setter because it would open the door for him to attack more switches. Think more pick-and-rolls involving VanVleet, Dragic or Malachi Flynn as the ball handler and Anunoby as the roller.

It helps that Toronto's centers (Khem Birch, Precious Achiuwa, Chris Boucher) aren't back to the basket bigs. The only other player on the roster who plays out of the low block is Siakam, so post touches shouldn't be hard to come by for Anunoby, even when Siakam returns.

Continue to grow as a passer

If Anunoby's usage is going to increase this season, it will open up opportunities for him to create for others, not just himself.

He's never been known as a passer, but Anunoby has made some strides in that department since entering the NBA. He's gone from averaging 0.7 assists per game as a rookie and sophomore to 1.6 in 2019-20 and 2.2 in 2020-21.

The best part? His turnovers have gone up a smidge, but his turnover percentage - an estimate of turnovers committed per 100 possessions - has remained practically the same.

In particular, Anunoby's interior passing jumps out. He's a pretty crafty passer out of the post, not being afraid to thread the needle between multiple defenders when they collapse on him.

It was promising to see Anunoby dish out almost as many assists on drives to the basket in 2020-21 (84) than he did in 2019-20 (95) despite playing in 25 fewer games.

Anunoby showed some potential as a playmaker on the short roll last season, though he did turn the ball over at a high rate relative to the rest of the league on those particular plays.

He even made some nice reads out of the pick-and-roll, another part of his game we saw more of last season.

Anunoby still has a ways to go as a facilitator - he's not the most natural passer and he can get tunnel vision at times - so this is more about him continuing to improve as he gets more reps, because he's going to be put in positions he's never really been in before.

If he does while also making strides as a shooter off the bounce and scorer out of the post, it would make for quite the leap.

The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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