Moments that Mattered: Development of OG Anunoby

Aaron Rose

The Toronto Raptors' playoff fate may rest in the hands of OG Anunoby.

There is no player in the Raptors playoff rotation with more important outstanding questions than Anunoby. The 23-year-old is going to get the toughest defensive for the Raptors night in and night out. If the Raptors go through Boston, Milwaukee, and one of the Los Angeles teams to repeat as NBA champions this year, Anunoby will see Jayson Tatum, Giannis Antetokounmpo and either LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard. That means Raptors coach Nick Nurse needs Anunoby on the court as much as possible to try and slow down opposing superstars.

For the Raptors to succeed in the playoffs, they need Anunoby to be taken seriously offensively, forcing opposing defenses to think twice before leaving him to help on one of the Raptors more refined offensive players.

Last night's scrimmage game against the Portland Trail Blazers showed Anunoby might have a new trick or two up his sleeve when the NBA season returns next month.

Play 1: Anunoby crosses up Hezonja and finds Hollis-Jefferson for the hockey assist

This play was exactly what the Raptors have been looking for from Anunoby offensively. He's aggressive on the Mario Hezonja closeout, shows off what appears to be much-improved handles, and when the defense collapses around him, he finds an open Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in the corner.

Last week Nurse hinted that a few Raptors players have developed new moves over the COVID-19 break and Anunoby's refined handles might be one of those improvements.

Portland's aggressive closeout on Hollis-Jefferson freed up a stellar opportunity for Terence Davis II to hit an open 3-pointer. That whole play wouldn't have been possible without the defense having to scramble to stop Anunony's aggressive dribble drive.

Play 2: Anunoby and-1 vs. Collins

Anunoby probably took the much tougher route to three points on this play.

With Zach Collins closing out, he attacked the Trail Blazer's big, driving first to the right before cutting back and finishing in traffic. He showed off some improved balance, quickly changing directions to cross up Collins, before flashing his strength, finishing through traffic for the and-1.

"It’s a footwork thing first of all and some of that is [done] at a really slow pace and then the key to it is to be able to do it on the move," Nurse said of Anunoby's balance. "You work on a stop-start. You work on going as fast as you can and getting into a stop and turn in directions. It's just repetition and it's kind of fine, fine, tooth stuff. It takes a little walking through, stopping, talking, re-teaching, and then lots of reps and then you got to be able to do to speed so it's a process a little bit."

That kind of aggressiveness and dribble penetration is something Anunoby has been missing for much of his career. Just 15% of his shots this season came after three or more dribbles and he struggled in isolation situations, albeit in a small sample size.

After the game last night, Nurse was complimentary of his young wing.

"I thought he looked good," Nurse said after the scrimmage. "I really liked this aggressiveness and thought his quickness and skill work on some of those drives both at the start and at the end, looked really good.

"He was just being aggressive and they were -- even if they didn't go in – they were good releases and the mechanics were good."

If Sunday night was any indication of an improved Anunoby, the Raptors could have the X-factor they need to get over the hump and recapture the NBA championship this summer.

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