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O.G. Anunoby's Defensive Impact Is Far More than Box Score Stats

By Aaron Rose,

2023-03-15

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The Toronto Raptors have seen O.G. Anunoby put up some incredible defensive statistics of late but his impact means far more than just box score numbers

O.G. Anunoby couldn’t help but smile as he looked down at the box score sheet following Thursday’s game against the Denver Nuggets. Normally 28 points allowed to an opposing superstar wouldn’t be grounds for celebration.

This time, though, against the two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, things were different.

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“He’s a great player,” the Toronto Raptors forward said of Jokic. “No matter what it’s tough guarding a guy like him.”

Anunoby has faced the who’s who of the NBA over the past three weeks and held his own in virtually every matchup. DeMar DeRozan scored just three points against the Raptors defensive star late last month, per NBA tracking data. That gave way to a pair of games against Bradley Beal who shot 2-for-12 with six total points against Anunoby in early March. Then came the first matchup against Jokic who was held to just two points with Anunoby in defense. Neither Kawhi Leonard nor Anthony Davis fared much better, scoring nine points and four points, respectively, against Anunoby.

Jokic’s performance Thursday night was somewhat the outlier. The Nuggets’ big man had 19 points on 8-for-9 shooting against Anunoby, per matchup data. It wasn’t the kind of smothering performance the Raptors have come to expect from the 6-foot-7, 232-pound do-it-all wing. But having a player like Anunoby who can defend both sides of the pick-and-roll, snuff out the Jokic and Jamal Murray pick-and-roll without being overpowered by the 6-foot-11, 284-pound Jokic makes a huge difference for a team’s overall defense.

“I thought O.G. did a great job on (Jokic),” said Fred VanVleet. “That helps build out your game plan from there and having Jakob (Poeltl) being able to roam around and then being able to (switch), it just changes the dynamic. So it’s a great luxury to have.”

Anunoby admitted Thursday that he doesn’t come into a game with a number of points he’d like to limit his primary matchup to on any given night. For him, the goal is limiting shot attempts, preventing his matchup from catching the ball in the first place, and holding his man to an inefficient outing.

With Jokic, that’s never easy. Anunoby was so successful denying Jokic the ball him earlier in the month that the Raptors knew an adjustment was coming. On Thursday, that meant more post-ups and back cuts from Jokic.

“He can play any role, he has handles, he does everything,” Anunoby said of Jokic. “You have to have your head on the swivel at all times and communicate and just be on your toes.”

To Nuggets coach Michael Malone, it’s Anunoby’s strength and defense-first mindset that’s so impressive.

“Have you seen his legs? You mention his size. But that guy is strong,” Malone said pre-game. “When you look at O.G. guard, whether it is Nikola or anything else, the strength, the athleticism, the IQ, the anticipation, and all great defenders have a common characteristic no matter how they’re built — mindset. He has a mindset to go out there and shut down whoever he’s guarding.”

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