November 4, 2019, 9:16 pm
OG Anunoby has gotten off to a great start in 2019-20, putting together what looks like a breakout campaign as a featured player. A high-level 3-and-D prospect, Anunoby is showcasing all that he has to offer on either end of the court through the Raptors’ first six games. It’s a step forward that has big implications for the team’s future, and is all the more notable given that his development to this point has hardly been linear.
Anunoby was a surprise in his first season, making a speedy return from a major knee injury at college and playing on opening night. It didn’t take him long to rise to the starting lineup, and it became apparent that Anunoby offered serious potential as a perfect complementary player in the modern game.
Last season brought a number of challenges for Anunoby and his development seemed to stagnate. The most obvious obstacle was Toronto’s acquisition of Kawhi Leonard, as it prevented Anunoby from taking a major leap in playing time. He went from 20.0 mpg as a rookie to just 20.2 as a sophomore, and though his usage rose Anunoby also shot worse from all three levels (field, 3-point line, free throw line), saw his turnover percentage increase while his assist rate dropped, and had his offensive and defensive ratings pass each other heading the wrong direction.
Off the court, Anunoby had to deal with the passing of his father right before the season began. When he was on the court, he never looked quite right thanks to a number of nicks and bumps and his season was ended by an emergency appendectomy on the eve of the playoffs.
On top of all that, Pascal Siakam took off like a rocket, earning a max contract and replacing OG as Toronto’s presumed building block for the next era. It was a trying year.
Mercifully, Anunoby looks to have turned things around, and in him the Raptors can see both their future and the issues that the team faces at the present reflected in his play.
The Raptors aren’t the same team that they were last year, but they know who they are and how they’ll need to play to stay afloat with a roster that’s simply too good to tank.
Toronto’s success will be predicated on their defensive identity, with the team’s undersized or slower players making smart, tough plays around the athletic hub of Siakam and Anunoby. They’ll try their best to muck games up and rely on length and smarts. The Raptors have preached defense for years but could never quite meet their goal with the roster’s core, up until last season.
Their free agent and trade acquisitions in the We The North era – DeMarre Carroll, Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker, Leonard and Danny Green, and to a lesser extent the likes of Patrick McCaw, Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – have been made to shore up the defensive end of the floor first and foremost.
In the sense that everything going forward will be viewed through the lens of how it works playing off of Siakam, Anunoby’s progress is vital. He gives the Raptors a bulkier athletic presence that can help absorb some of the league’s toughest matchups, as he did on Saturday night when he served as the primary defender on Giannis Antetokounmpo for approximately 3:23, compared to Siakam’s 3:38 per NBA.com. Anunoby’s ability to tread water in that sort of matchup takes on added importance given Siakam’s early issues with foul trouble.
Anunoby’s breakout is borne out in the numbers, and while the sample size is admittedly small he’s sporting a defensive rating of 99.3 and a net rating of plus-10.3, while averaging 1.7 steals, 1.5 blocks and 1.7 threes per game on .455 from behind the arc. Those numbers shouldn’t be expected to stay in that range but this is the sort of play that Anunoby’s biggest supporters have dreamed of.
That said, it’s at least possible that they don’t drop off significantly. With Leonard gone, Anunoby is averaging 34.2 minutes per game this season, nearly a 75 percent increase on last season’s playing time, when he averaged 1.0 threes, 0.7 steals and 0.3 blocks per contest. Despite some unsustainable production, this is the sort of jump that takes place when elite athleticism meets opportunity.
For as strong as the defense is, in principle and in practice, for both Anunoby and the Raptors, the offense remains a work in progress.
It’s unsurprising that the Raptors have struggled to find their way offensively after losing two starters and the team’s highest-usage player. Aside from Kyle Lowry, who has experience operating as a primary scorer, the rest of the Raptors are still finding their way as the usage vacuum gets filled.
Some of that has fallen to Anunoby, who is going to set career-highs in both points and attempts (currently at 11.8 points on 9.0 attempts per game), but it’s still an unfinished project. He’s taking fewer catch-and-shoot looks while dealing with more contested shots. It’s the sort of offensive load that the Raptors knew would be coming, and it’s one of the reasons that the team had decided to let Anunoby play as the go-to scorer in previous Summer League and garbage time stints.
Anunoby thrives when he’s making quick decisions; making timely cuts, using his explosiveness to drive past defenders or rising and firing quickly. It’s when he hesitates that the offensive warts are laid bare. Like the team overall, things can turn ugly when the first thought is snuffed out. Both should settle down over time as a new pecking order is established.
Like the rest of the Raptors, Anunoby has been empowered to take on more of the offensive burden, but whether or not he can hit his ceiling on that end of the floor remains to be seen.
In Anunoby, the Raptors can see quite a bit about the team as a whole. There are no questions about the defensive side of things, where the skills and intensity are a baseline requirement. Offensively, there are still questions that must be answered and growing pains that will be felt.
Although it’s Siakam’s growth that will be the headline as Toronto enters another era, Anunoby’s play is indicative of where their strengths lie and how much work is still left to be done elsewhere.
It’s far from perfect, but it’s not a bad place to be.
November 21, 2019, 2:25 amPatrick BeverleyPG, Los Angeles Clippers
Patrick Beverly had a monstrous stat line against the Celtics in a 107-104 overtime win on Wednesday, ending the night with 14 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, three steals, two blocks and four 3-pointers.
It's really hard to ask for a better game than this. Beverly was a machine in this one and had easily his best game of the year. Unfortunately, this performance was more of an outlier than the norm. It's tough to count on him for consistent value in standard leagues, but could have merit in deeper leagues. This was the Clippers' first game with both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, so it's possible this dynamic creates more chances for Beverly, but we'll have to wait and see.
November 21, 2019, 2:16 amPaul GeorgeSF, Los Angeles Clippers
Paul George racked up 25 points on 8-of-18 shooting in Wednesday night's contest against the Celtics, in addition to five rebounds, eight assists, a block and four 3-pointers.
George had another solid outing and shows that he can contribute across the board. Although he has only suited up four times this year, he is a top-10 player on a per-game basis along with his teammate, Kawhi Leonard. He should have the opportunity for some huge games when Kawhi takes his days off.
November 21, 2019, 2:10 amKawhi LeonardSF, Los Angeles Clippers
Kawhi Leonard did a little bit of everything in his return on Wednesday night, putting up a line of 17 points, six rebounds, three assists, three steals, two blocks and three 3-pointers.
Simply put, Leonard can ball. It's just a matter of how often. Fantasy players drafted him for nights like this, but have to live with the fact that he'll be missing games every now-and-then. That being said, on a per-game basis, he is still a top-10 player this year and someone you can count on to end the season around that mark.
November 21, 2019, 2:02 amMontrezl HarrellPF, Los Angeles Clippers
Montrezl Harrell logged 31 minutes off the bench on Wednesday, and turned it into six points, six rebounds, three dimes, two steals and two blocks.
It was a quiet night on offense for Harrell as most of the Clippers' shots came from their guards and wings. However, he was still able to contribute a couple steals and blocks tonight. Even after the low offensive output, Harrell is sitting inside top-80 value on the season. Ivica Zubac and Maurice Harkless also had quiet nights with five and three points respectively.
November 21, 2019, 1:59 amLauri MarkkanenPF, Chicago Bulls
Lauri Markkanen woke up with a team-high 24 points on 7-of-14 shooting with six boards, three treys, one steal and two blocks in a 109-89 win over the Pistons on Wednesday.
Markkanen has not delivered anything close to his mid-round ADP so far this season, mostly the result of his .362 shooting from the field. He could warm up soon and his buy-low window would slam shut. Act accordingly.
November 21, 2019, 1:57 amLou WilliamsSG, Los Angeles Clippers
Lou Williams took over for the Clippers on Wednesday night, ending the contest with 27 points on 10-of-21 shooting, two rebounds, two assists, two steals and three 3-pointers but also seven turnovers.
In a night where all eyes were supposed to be focused on Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the court for the first time, Lou Williams stole the show. He led the team in both points and field goal attempts. Williams has had a great stretch of games and has played at a top-50 value recently. However, his season marks are more realistic and have him just inside the top-100.
November 21, 2019, 1:56 amWendell Carter Jr.C, Chicago Bulls
Wendell Carter Jr. played well in a tough matchup against Andre Drummond, posting 12 points on 3-of-7 shooting with 15 rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block in 33 minutes.
WCJ is a top-120 value on the season, but has the tools to pull that needle closer to top-75 before the 2019-20 dust settles. Consider floating a buy-low offer right now.
November 21, 2019, 1:51 amShaquille HarrisonPG, Chicago Bulls
Shaquille Harrison drew the start for an injured Otto Porter (righ foot bone bruise) and thrived with 15 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals, one trey and one block in 26 minutes on Wednesday.
Porter is out for at least a couple more weeks. Harrison has outplayed Chandler Hutchison with this spot start, making him a speculative add in case Harrison sticks with starting five.
November 21, 2019, 1:51 amJayson TatumSF, Boston Celtics
Jayson Tatum balled out on Wednesday, dropping a season-high 30 points on 12-of-24 shooting, and adding, six rebounds, three assists, two steals, two blocks and five 3-pointers.
This was one of Tatum's best lines of the season. He has strung together a couple of solid outings with Gordon Hayward out. Tatum is currently a top-40 player and should settle somewhere around there as the season progresses.
November 21, 2019, 1:44 amKemba WalkerPG, Boston Celtics
Kemba Walker had a rough night on Wednesday, scoring 13 points on 4-of-17 shooting, with only two assists and six turnovers, but somehow managed nine rebounds.
Kemba's night was salvaged with his nine rebounds, but other than that it was one he'd like to forget. It was his season-high in turnovers and tied his season-low in assists. He is still a top-20 guy and he'll move past this. It just wasn't a great game, simple as that.