It’s been three years since the Toronto Raptors were crowned NBA champions and yet only four players remain from that title-winning roster. Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet remain among the franchise’s cornerstones, while Chris Boucher has had his moments but can’t seem to find a consistent role in Raptors head coach Nick Nurse’s rotation.
And then there’s OG Anunoby.
Anunoby, who became the first British player to win an NBA championship, was on the roster, but an emergency appendectomy prevented him from stepping onto the court. After a 2019-2020 season that saw him play in all but three games (including the postseason), Anunoby never played more than 48 games in each of the two succeeding seasons. Within that span of time, Siakam, VanVleet, and Scottie Barnes have taken turns in leading Toronto.
This season, though, Anunoby has taken on the mantle of leading the Raptors.
Siakam remains the team’s leading scorer at 24.1 points per game, but Anunoby has played all of Toronto’s 20 games and thus leads the team in games played. That has not only helped make him the second leading scorer on the team (19.0 points per game), but it has also given him a career-high in usage rate (21.8 percent). This of course, partly explains the high turnovers (2.7 turnovers per game), but one can’t blame him given how Anunoby has had to cover for the unintended absences of some of his peers.
The increased responsibility and Anunoby’s ability to handle it as a two-way player have gone under the radar, but it definitely is not lost on the city of Toronto. His value can at times be evident on the box score, but part of it comes with doing the hard and at times dirty work. Nevertheless, the results show themselves like they did in a 100-88 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Anunoby had the unenviable task of guarding Donovan Mitchell and he made a great account of himself. Not only was he the leading scorer for both teams (20 points), but he was also able to shut down the three-time NBA All-Star. Mitchell, who entered the contest averaging north of 30 points per game, missed eight of his 11 shot attempts, made only one of his five 3-point attempts, and only went to the free throw line once.
Anunoby embodies in a nutshell what the Raptors are looking for in their players: tall, two-way players that are greatly committed to the team’s goals. The 23rd overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft has done whatever was asked of him and his faith in Nurse’s system has been repaid with the playing time he has earned and the touches he gets. That Toronto has a solid player development program has also worked for Anunoby, who counts the likes of Siakam and VanVleet as among the peers he has grown up with as a member of the Raptors.
The 11-9 record Toronto sports as of this writing has them at sixth place, but half a game separates them from the fifth-place Philadelphia 76ers, seventh-place Washington Wizards, and the eight place Atlanta Hawks. An 82-game season on the whole leaves some wiggle room, but a tight race to avoid the tricky play-in tournament means every win pretty much counts.
It goes without saying that the concern with Anunoby will always be his health, as everything else is contingent on whether or not he can stay on the court for a long period of time. He has thus far not missed any time this season, but with the Raptors aiming for another long postseason run, maintenance days are on the table for the 25-year old, who has already dealt with a myriad of injuries dating back to his days at Indiana University.
Nearly a quarter into the 2022-2023, it’s safe to say that the Toronto Raptors have had to rely on OG Anunoby more than in the last few seasons. Anunoby has thus far been able to take on the challenge and if his health holds up, look for him to lead the Raptors to great heights.