Wow. What a trip down memory lane that list is for a Raptors fan. A total mish-mash of characters that just spews ineptitude and mediocrity. You may be wondering why I decided to remind you of these players that quite frankly are very forgettable (or memorable for the wrong reasons). Well you see, each of these players has one thing in common: they have each started a regular season opening game at Small Forward for the Toronto Raptors.
Let’s see, how many names are there…did you count?…There’s eleven.
Okay, so we’ve got that part down. Now, remember Vince Carter? He was great, wasn’t he? When he was on the team, he was a star at small forward that the Raptors would start, night in, night out; year after year. Hate him or not for how he left, Vince was a reliable player you could pencil in every night and expect to receive high-end production from.
There’s been twelve seasons since Vince Carter was a Toronto Raptor.
Those eleven players listed above have been Toronto’s attempt to fill the small forward void left by VC. In other words, there has been a new starter at that position in 11 of the last 12 seasons (DeMarre Carroll was there for two…unfortunately). If you’ve caught on to my tone, that fun fact is total trash. Not to mention that only three of these eleven “starters” (Graham, Peterson and Ross) were a Raptors draft selection, which really speaks to their inability to draft and develop a home grown talent at what’s arguably the most important position there is with LeBron James lurking in your conference.
Alright Raptors fans I’m not trying to ruin your day. So I’ll get to the whole point–the time has come that the Raps may have finally dug themselves out from this deep, dark Small Forward sanctum.
Meet Ogugua “OG” Anunoby Jr., the Raptors 1st round selection (23rd overall) from the most recent NBA draft. Anunoby is a 20 year-old kid that was born in England, raised in Missouri and is of Nigerian descent. He’s a guy that was never highly touted as a highschool recruit, as he was ranked 261st in his class on the Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI) before heading off to Indiana University. But there’s one thing Anunoby had always been praised for, and it was seemingly one thing only: Physical Tools. He’s a 6’8”, 235lbs athletic machine with an official 7’2” wingspan, and that quickly began to gain some attention while playing with the Hoosiers. Attention that was in large part due to some solid performances displaying his athletic potential throughout the 2015-16 NCAA tournament in his freshman year.
The most notable of those performances being when Indiana knocked off a star-studded, Jamal Murray (Canadian)-led Kentucky Wildcats team in the round of 32. But it wasn’t his offense that stood out, it was his defensive ability and versatility that garnered the attention. Anunoby showed that he was able to effectively defend and switch across positions to effectively guard Jamal Murray (6’4”), Skal Labissiere (6’11”) and Tyler Ulis (5’10”), each of whom are now NBA players. Murray had entered that game having recorded 23.6 points on 50.4 percent shooting in his previous 15 games. But after a heavy dose of Anunoby he was held to just 16 points on 7-of-18 shooting and was even blocked twice by OG on three point attempts.
This breakout on America’s biggest stage had NBA scouts dreaming of what Anunoby could become at the next level. He had quickly became a tantalizing young prospect perfect for the modern day NBA on the defensive end due to his versatility…and when I say versatility, I really mean versatility. His shot making ability was considered “to be improved”, but it didn’t stop the mock-draft makers of the world from placing him inside their pre-season top-15 for the 2017 NBA Draft (and in some cases even top-10). Anunoby had become a guy that was legitimately drawing Kawhi Leonard comparisons and I’m not talking because of his equally awkward personality (necessarily).
So what happened? Well, Anunoby entered his sophomore season looking as good as he’d ever been. He’d earned a larger role on a Hoosiers team that saw notable names like Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams move on to the NBA. Anunoby even led the Hoosiers to a notable victory against the champions-to-be North Carolina Tar Heels early in the regular season.
But then, Anunoby’s season was abruptly cut short after he tore his ACL back in January. For Raptors fans this was our blessing in disguise. The big reason why OG fell to number 23 in the draft was because his injury made him more of a gamble in the eye of NBA front offices. When it comes to Masai Ujiri, we’re all too familiar with the late first round, high-ceiling draft gamble (Bruno Caboclo), so this pick seemed like a no-brainer for him and General Manager Bobby Webster.
Nobody could have envisioned OG Anunoby suiting up for the Toronto Raptors on opening night in October, just nine months removed from tearing his ACL. But he did, and he’s played in every one of the Raptors’ 22 games to this point in the season. He’s provided some impressively stingy defense already, on occasion being asked to match up with the opponent’s marquee player, like when he was asked to defend James Harden.
But his offense, specifically his ability to knock down the corner three, has far exceeded expectations at this point. For a guy who had draft experts skeptical of his ability to consistently shoot, OG finds himself third among rookies in 3-point percentage (min. 40 attempts). He’s behind just Jayson Tatum (the 3rd overall pick) and Luke Kennard (that’s literally all he does). And it’s a pretty legitimate 41.7% too, tied with Kyle Lowry for best on the team. After two years of watching DeMarre Carroll play it felt like that sort of production was impossible, but I guess that’s not the case.
As a result of his surprising emergence, Anunoby has since been promoted to the starting lineup and has started 10 straight games for the Raps. They’re 8-2 in that span and OG’s three-point shooting has only gotten better (14/30, 46.7%). The odd part of all of this being, statistically speaking, Anunoby’s advanced defensive metrics don’t look great. His Box Plus/Minus (BPM) of 2.4 is being propped up by his Offensive BPM of 2.6, making his Defensive BPM -0.2. But one could make the argument that this low score is the result of OG being a 20 year-old rookie usually being tasked with a high-end matchup. Oh, and that ACL thing still happened less than a year ago. It’s probably a fair speculation that he’s not even at a full 100% health yet.
So you’re trying to tell me this 20 year old’s expected weakness (shooting and playmaking) isn’t actually a weakness and his defensive strengths haven’t even fully shown themselves yet?
I’m getting a tingling feeling. You know that feeling of realization when you see a guy play and you ask yourself, “how did he fall this far?” I’m getting ahead of myself, but there’s great players overlooked in every draft. Why couldn’t OG be one? Kevin Durant certainly isn’t shying away from the idea.
If we’re to look back to June recently after Anunoby was drafted by the Raptors, head coach Dwane Casey had this to say about Anunoby:
“He is a PJ Tucker clone practically and that is something that is perfect for us with that toughness.” Toronto Sun, 2017
No disrespect to PJ Tucker, but right now that could become an insult to Anunoby with the trajectory he looks to be headed. I’m loving OG. On top of his basketball talents he’s just so quirky and he makes for a hilarious interview.
But listen, OG Anunoby isn’t the second coming of LeBron James. To this point, he certainly looks like he can be a consistent contributor and provide some stability at a position that the Raptors have been trying to patch for over a decade. Is he a draft day steal? Early returns would suggest the Raptors at the very least got great value.
So keep it together, but we may have something Raptors fans. I think we should be able to sleep soundly regarding who will be starting at the small forward position for Opening Nights to come.
We’ve got our prodigy…wait…nah, that’s a little much. How about ProdOG? Yeah, that’ll work for now.
Who’s down for some cheesecake?