Toronto Raptors

There's much more to OG Anunoby's improvement than the numbers

It's still way too early to be talking in-depth about leading Most Improved Player candidates, but there's no doubt that OG Anunoby is positioning himself to be in the conversation based on the way he's started the season.

Unfortunately, Anunoby could be sidelined for "a while" with a left hip pointer, but the Toronto Raptors forward was posting the best numbers of his career prior to his injury. He's averaging around the same number of rebounds (5.4), assists (2.7), steals (1.5) and blocks (0.6) as last season, but his scoring has jumped from 15.9 points per game to a career-best and team-high 20.1 points per game.

Anunoby has scored in double figures in each game he's played, making for the second-longest streak of his career. He also has eight 20-point games to date. That's already the second-most he's ever had in a single season.

Impressive as those numbers are, it's how Anunoby is getting them that stands out.

NBA League Pass: Sign up to unlock live out-of-market games (7-day free trial)

As you can see in the chart below, which is based on Synergy's play type data, Anunoby continues to generate the bulk of his offence by getting out in transition and spotting-up on the 3-point line, but he's not doing it with nearly the same frequency as the last two seasons. Instead, he's getting far more opportunities to create his own offence, primarily off of handoffs, in isolation and out of the post.

Some of that has to do with Kyle Lowry no longer being on the team and Pascal Siakam only recently returning from injury, but Anunoby has made the most of the opportunity. He already has 47 unassisted baskets this season, putting him on pace to shatter his total from last season (74).

The caveat is that Anunoby isn't scoring with nearly the same efficiency as he has in the past. He remains an excellent spot-up shooter and transition scorer, but he's struggled to score consistently on those self-created plays. (Look at his handoff, isolation and post-up numbers if you dare). It explains why he's shooting a career-low 43.0 percent from the field and his 3-point percentage is down (.366) from the last two seasons combined (.395).

Efficiency is important, of course, but the process is more important than the results for Anunoby right now because he's showing there could be much more to his game. He's already proven himself to be one of the league's better 3-and-D wings - a reliable 3-point shooter who can not only comfortably defend all five positions but wreak havoc with his 7-foot-2 wingspan.

Anunoby is now adding to that foundation by showing signs of being able to take advantage of a mismatch in the post.

He's shown signs of being able to attack like-sized defenders in the post as well.

(Yes, that was Kevin Durant defending him. He did something equally as mean to James Harden.)

He's shooting off the dribble with a level of confidence we've never seen before, both from midrange...

...and 3-point range.

He's still not the smoothest of drivers, but his handle looks tighter this season, to the point where he can string together multiple moves.

The Raptors are even putting the ball in Anunoby's hands down the stretch of close games.

Once again, the numbers haven't been anything to write home about - Anunoby has scored a total of 12 points on 4-for-17 (23.5 percent) shooting from the field and 2-for-10 (20.0 percent) from 3-point range with the game in the balance - but there have been some encouraging moments.

Against the Cavaliers, Anunoby hit a big 3-pointer to extend Toronto's lead to five points. (The Raptors went on to lose, but still.)

Against the 76ers, Anunoby led the Raptors to victory with two big-time assists in the closing minute.

The first gave Toronto the lead.

The second made it a two-possession game and led to VanVleet, uh, celebrating in a way the league didn't appreciate.

(The Raptors did win that one, by the way.)

How far Anunoby can take all of this, who knows, but it's all part of him tapping further and further into the potential that makes him one of the most intriguing players in the league. He's already improved tremendously since the Raptors selected him with the No. 23 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and, now in his age-24 season, continues to show that he still has plenty of room to grow.

It takes me back to something I wrote about Anunoby during this rookie season.

"If he doesn't become a knockdown shooter, Anunoby still has a future in the NBA as a low usage defensive specialist. (Think Andre Roberson or Tony Allen.) If he improves as a shooter and reaches his full potential as a defender, he has a future as a 3-and-D wing. (Think Robert Covington or Danny Green.) If he improves as a shooter, reaches his full potential as a defender and becomes a better playmaker, he has the potential to be something truly special."

Anunoby has already checked two of those boxes. What's exciting is we're now starting to see him fill in the third.

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

More from NBA.com

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry (Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat)
DeRozan on Lowry: 'He's like a big brother'
Nick Metallinos
Christian Wood vs. Hornets
Records tied & broken in Rockets-Hornets OT thriller
Yash Matange
KD and Booker
Suns proving last year's Finals run was no fluke
Yash Matange
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)
How did Embiid fare in his return?
Nick Metallinos
#Rondoassistsstrek
On This Date: Rondo's epic assists streak ends
Yash Matange
John Wall (Houston Rockets)
John Wall could return to the Houston Rockets
Nick Metallinos
More News