There’s more to Raptors forward O.G. Anunoby’s All-Defensive case than his star-stopping ways

Welcome to That One Play! During the 2022-23 NBA season, our staff at The Sporting News will break down specific possessions from specific games and draw back the curtains to reveal their greater significance.

Today, Raptors forward OG Anunoby is in the spotlight.

The game

MORE: The top stats you need to know in the razor-thin MVP debate

Tear down

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander brings the ball up for the Thunder after an Anunoby dunk.

Gilgeous-Alexander is defended by Fred VanVleet. The other Raptors on the court are Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes and Jakob Poeltl. Anunoby and Barnes meet Isaiah Joe and Luguentz in opposite corners there, Trent defends Tre Mann on the wing and Poeltl picks up Jaylin Williams.

Gilgeous-Alexander wasted no time performing a pick and roll with Williams. He doesn’t actually use the screen, but he’s instantly hit by Poeltl while VanVleet is glued to his waist.

Just 12 players are averaging more points per game as ball handlers in pick and rolls than Gilgeous-Alexander this season. He was incredibly efficient, finishing in the 81st percentile with a rate of 1.00 points per possession. His batting chart tells you everything you need to know about just how versatile a goalscorer he has become.

Pöltl extends to the 3-point line and Barnes helps there against Gilgeous-Alexander, who turns the corner. The problem? It opens up a pocket pass for Williams, which rolls toward the basket.

You’d think that would leave the Raptors vulnerable to a layup, but Anunoby is on the move before Williams even touches the ball.

Anunoby gives Williams a few inches, but he times his jump perfectly to block his shot.

MORE: Fred VanVleet proves to be the biggest winner from Jakob Poeltl’s trade

Why it matters

A couple of reasons.

For one, Anunoby’s blockade led to this beauty from Poeltl:

Anunoby followed up with another defensive stop that resulted in another bucket for Poeltl.

Anunoby then did the following there:

(Yes, Anunoby was booed for a foul, but it looks like Trent and Barnes disagreed.)

Second, Anunoby has played at an all-defensive level all season, but he’s been particularly impressive lately. In recent weeks he has been the main defender for Bradley Beal, DeMar DeRozan, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic.

That’s an All-Star shooting guard, three All-NBA forwards, and a center who could win three straight MVP awards.

Here’s how they each fared when compared to Anunoby according to NBA tracking data:

What’s unique about Anunoby is that he’s not just a defensive stopper. He’s one of the NBA’s most disruptive backup defenders. After Toronto’s win over Oklahoma City, he now has a season total of 153 steals and blocks (aka stocks), behind eight players, who are the most in the league. He is also tied with VanVleet for a best 3.7 deviations per game in the league.

Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault destroyed Anunoby’s defensive versatility well before Thursday’s game.

“I think his combination of size, strength and agility gives him a kind of wide range of players to protect,” Daigneault said. per Eric Koreen of The Athletic. “It allows them to move him through the lineup very effectively. He’s guarding Anthony Davis in LA the other night. He can also guard guards. He guarded Shai when he first played us. If you only think about these two players, there is a wide range of players that he can guard.

“The best defenders come in two categories: either they are as versatile or just plain powerful as a [Rudy] Gobert. Gobert doesn’t guard every guy, but he’s influential. There has a combination of both, but affects the guy he’s guarding more. Anunoby is as versatile as they come.”

To get Daigneault’s point, the Raptors had Anunoby chasing Gilgeous-Alexander when the two teams met for the first time this season. On Thursday, Anunoby spent the first half guarding Josh Giddey and Dort, which allowed him to run around and make more plays like the ones mentioned above. He then guarded Gilgeous-Alexander down the track to give him a different look.

Though the Raptors are an underperforming defensive team, it was another reminder of everything that deserves Anunoby a spot on an all-defensive team this season.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *