Anunoby shows improved offensive repertoire in Raptors win
If the Toronto Raptors are going to make a deep playoff run this season, OG Anunoby might very well be the team's X-factor.
The 23-year-old forward is already a bonafide defensive star. He can defend almost anyone on the court, but the question for the Raptors is what can he contribute on the offensive end?
If Sunday night's 110-104 scrimmage victory over the Portland Trail Blazers is any indication of what the future holds, Anunoby appears on his way to becoming the true two-way player the Raptors need.
Anunoby didn't wait long to make an impact Sunday night. He sat out the first few minutes in place of Marc Gasol who returned to the starting lineup, but once he got on the court he seemed to play with newfound offensive aggression.
"I thought he looked good," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of Anunoby. "I really liked his aggressiveness and thought his quickness and skill work on some of those drives both at the start and at the end, looked really good."
Anunoby went 3-for-6 from the field for seven points including an impressive alley-oop slam dunk from Kyle Lowry.
Though Anunoby went 0-for-2 from behind the arc, Nurse wasn't upset.
"I like again that he was just being aggressive and they were -- even if they didn't go in – they were good releases and the mechanics were good," he said.
Any kind of offensive contribution from Anunoby is going to be magnified in the playoffs where he is expected to be the Raptors' weakest offensive rotation player. His ability to hit catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, sneak past defenders when they're focusing on other Raptors, or occasionally create for himself in the half-court will be crucial to helping the Raptors in the post-season.
"He has to be someone that is aggressive, that plays on the catch," Gasol said of Anunoby. "He's not gonna get plays called a lot for him but whenever he catches it, somebody's going to be closing out, he has to make a quick decision, either shoot it or drive it, and he's doing a great job."
After missing the first scrimmage game due to rest, Gasol made his Orlando debut and showed some improved athleticism in the first half. He said he was itching to get into his first game since March and he looked excited and a little extra-bouncy on the court.
He and VanVleet worked a two-man game in the right corner early on in the first half, and when CJ McCollum and Hassan Whiteside collapsed onto VanVleet, Gasol snuck by them before getting fouled going up for a dunk.
He started alongside Serge Ibaka in a quasi-jumbo lineup alongside Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, and VanVleet. The group surprisingly started the game with six straight 3-point shots.
"I thought they were really good looks," Nurse said of all the 3-pointers to start the game. "It's one of those things where more of them go in it looks awesome, and they didn’t really go in so it was a little bit of a slow start. I didn't think they looked very comfortable though, to be honest with you, but that's OK, well try it again."
For that lineup to succeed the group is going to need to be able to space the floor successfully. That's part of the reason why Ibaka's development as a 3-point shooter this season has been so important. He was once again connecting from long range tonight, going 3-for-5 from behind the arc for a team-high 19 points.
"It's crucial," Gasol said of Ibaka's 3-point shooting in the jumbo lineup. "We have to be able to move guys out of the paint, especially if they try to go big as they did today. That's what we work on. Having me and Serge out there does a lot of great things defensively, but offensively we've gotta create space for Freddy, for Kyle, for Pascal, for OG, for Norman to drive in there and create shots either for themselves or for us."
While things ran mostly smoothly for the Raptors who certainly looked less rusty than their first time out, there was an injury scare in the first quarter when VanVleet bumped into Portland's Anfernee Simons and was forced to exit the game with what the team is called a "bumped" left knee.
"There’s always a little immediate concern whenever anybody goes down," Nurse said of VanVleet's injury. "You don't want to lose anybody in a scrimmage, right."
VanVleet did not return to the game, but the injury does not sound too concerning, according go to Nurse.
The Raptors will wrap up their scrimmage series on Tuesday when they return to the court against the Phoenix Suns at 3 p.m.