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OG Anunoby Is Poised to Become The Guy for the Raptors With Pascal Siakam Out Early

The Toronto Raptors are throwing OG Anunoby into the fire by asking him to take on a bigger offensive workload while maintaining his elite defensive intensity
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The moment the Toronto Raptors traded Norman Powell last season everything seemed to change for OG Anunoby. It wasn’t all that surprising, frankly. Whenever someone ahead of Anunoby in the offensive pecking order was sidelined for an evening there’d be a sudden jump in his usage and offensive effectiveness.

Prior to the March 25 deal, Anunoby was averaging 14.3 points on 10.7 shots per game. Following Powell’s departure, those numbers jumped to 18.2 points on 14.2 shots. It wasn’t superstar-level usage, nobody puts up those numbers in Toronto's system, but it was certainly a noticeable jump for the young forward.

“When somebody gets hurt or somebody goes out there’s a guy that steps up that plays out of his mind,” said Raptors guard Fred VanVleet back on Raptors media day. “Why can’t you do that when such-and-such is playing? But there’s a pecking order of basketball.”

That’s the difference between being a guy and The Guy, if you will, in the NBA. It’s about stepping up to take those shots when your team needs a bucket and everyone in the arena knows where the ball is going.

“Being the man sometimes is I’m gonna shoot this ball 40 times and nobody better blink,” VanVleet said. “I better not see a face, the coach better not throw his hands up, a player can’t get mad. It’s a clear-cut distinction.”

When the season tips off for Toronto on Wednesday night, Anunoby is going to be The Guy for the Raptors. It’ll be his first significant stretch in the role as he steps in to replace Pascal Siakam who continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. But while it might seem like a big jump for the 24-year-old, it’s a challenge Anunoby seems ready for.

“He’s confident in his abilities right now,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Monday. “I think that when you are, you're always searching more, you're finding ways to be open, get the ball, demand it on the post, and maybe the window of a driving lane is kind of there and maybe a year ago or two years ago that kind of [opportunity] wasn't taking, but if it's kind of there now, he's blasting through there.”

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That’s the natural progression for players who are finding success in limited roles, Nurse said. At first, the organization is going to keep it simple. Can you make your catch-and-shoot three-pointers? Then it’s can you cut and score around the net? Then maybe it’s some on-ball work. What can you do with the ball in your hands? And if the ball keeps going in, the opportunities will keep coming.

Unlike other stars, however, Anunoby is not only going to be asked to take on a bigger offensive workload, but Toronto doesn’t plan on giving him rest defensively. The Raptors are trying to build a ferocious defensive team and that means sticking Anunoby, Toronto’s best defender, on the opposing team’s best scorer night after night.

“He’s going to be guarding the best players in the league every night because he can do it,” Nurse said.

That’s what’s going to make this stretch so fascinating for Anunoby. He’s shown he can put it all together in limited action, but now Toronto needs him to do it for a month or so until Siakam gets back. If he can maintain the defensive intensity while taking on a bigger offensive usage and succeeding, the Raptors will have a true two-way star on their hands.

Further Reading

Ishmail Wainright will hold his head high no matter what the Raptors decide

No matter what the Raptors decide, Sam Dekker is finally at ease

Who should the Raptors start? Goran Dragic or Gary Trent Jr.