In the last few days, the noise around the Toronto Raptors has grown stronger. Since the start of the season, we have heard murmurings of discontent among players and the front office alike. The Raptors are #12 in the Eastern Conference with a record of 23-30 and are currently slipping away from the competitive pack.
For years, Toronto have prided themselves on being competitive every single season but it now finally appears that the cycle for this group has reached an end. From what has reported, it seems like every player on the roster except for Scottie Barnes is available.
Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster have both raised the white flag and called time on their experiment to build a roster focused around lengthy, versatile wings. Toronto’s teardown has been coming for quite some time, losing veterans like Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol reduced the talent on the roster without adequate replacements being found.
The roster is quite thin outside of Nurse’s core players which has led to Nick Nurse riding his starters heavily, Anunoby, VanVleet and Siakam all play 36 minutes per night or more. Nick is one of the best coaches in the association and it is pretty telling that he only seems to trust four players to consistently provide positive contributions.
I have no interest in Siakam or VanVleet. Pascal is an excellent basketball player but he is 28 and his contract runs out next season. He would be a win-now move on a roster that is still building towards that stage.
Fred VanVleet is a good point guard but he is shooting a career low in 3-point percentage this season, 34.4% on 8.6 3PA. For a small guard who is not particularly athletic, efficiency from downtown is a necessity. His age profile is also wrong for this team and I would wager that VanVleet wants serious money in free agency next summer.
The likes of Gary Trent Jr and Chris Boucher are good solid role players but their contact are large for the value that they provide. The only player on the Raptors who is worth pursuing would be OG Anunoby.
Anunoby is the sort of player that all GMs cherish, he is 6’7 wing who can feasibly guard all five positions while being able to knock down the long ball and create off the dribble. He is not the best shot-creator but OG has averaged 16/5/2 on 53% EFG for his career. Once you factor in his stellar defense, you are talking about a guy who is a fringe All-Star type player.
The Thunder currently lack a big wing who can lock down elite tier forward and having Anunoby on the roster would go a long way to addressing that weakness. OG can be relied upon to be a strong option on the defensive end of the floor in a wide variety of situations.
On any given possession, you will see Anunoby use his frame to trap his assignment in a web of limbs. His midsection is thick and it is difficult to bump OG off his spot; Anunoby is very good at staying attached to his man while taking contact.
His physicals make up just a small part of OG’s defensive ability in 1v1 situations; he also has a good understanding of how to make the game difficult for the opposition. OG rarely allows an open lane to hoop and keeps his assignment in full view, where his eyes can study the ball-handler.
Anunoby stifles teams and runs time off the clock in the way that Luguentz Dort does for the Thunder whenever Dort picks up his man at half-court. Both players are capable of using the time pressure of the shot clock to create errors by the opposing team.
Off the ball, OG is also incredibly strong. His feel for spacing is also excellent and Anunoby is aware of how his position on the court affects how the defense may attack the space. OG sets traps by playing high up on the perimeter and baiting the opponent into ill-advised passes. As soon the interior pass is made, Anunoby is doubling back and snatching the ball.
He will set this trap numerous times during the game and it always seems to pop up with positive results.
We often throw around the term ‘Swiss Army knife’ but OG is the real deal in this regard. You can put him in any position on any defensive coverage and he will get a decent result. That sort of versatility is invaluable to team, having a player who can erase mistakes on defense and make the best of bad moments solves so many of the Thunder’s issues.
Coach Daigneault would no longer need to worry about how Dort fairs against the likes of LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo. Dort’s tenacity could be focused on small, fast guards, matchups where he typically succeeds.
On offense, he will reliably knock down shots from deep, 37% from this shooting zone for his career, and he has started to show some off the dribble bounce. The knock on Anunoby’s game for the last few years is that he cannot create off the dribble for himself.
Injury for Fred VanVleet meant that Nick Nurse put the ball in OG’s hands more often with passable results. We saw Anunoby use his frame to bully his way to the rim and get easy finishes with his length. Occasionally, OG would bump the defender and drain a mid-range jumper.
By no means is he is a fully-fledged playmaker but I do not believe that the Thunder would need him to be. Coach Daigneault runs an offense where the ball flows around; there are no set play initiators for the Thunder outside of Gilgeous-Alexander.
Anunoby’s lack of creative vision as a passer would be masked in this set up as his only responsibility would be to shift the ball to a teammate in a better position.
The big weakness in an Anunoby trade would be his contract. OG’s deal expires in 2024 which would mean that the Thunder would have 18 months of his services before Anunoby hits unrestricted free agency.
It would be important for Sam Presti to negotiate a contract extension before he commits to trading for Anunoby, it makes little sense to comit valuable assets for a rental before the Thunder are even ready to compete.
The team trading for Anunoby would hold his bird rights and would be able to offer a more lucrative deal then what competing teams could offer. Financially, the Thunder would be in a strong position to agree a prospective extension with OG.
In terms of the sporting project, the Thunder have one of the most exciting futures in the NBA. Oklahoma City have three excellent shot-creators in Gilgeous-Alexander, Williams and Giddey, a blue-chip rookie center who has not played a minute and an interesting selection of young players. It is a team set up for long-term success.
Other teams such as Memphis and New Orleans have similar, exciting competitive visions but they already have expensive rosters. Outside of Shai and Lu, the Thunder do not have any large salaries on the roster. They have the flexibility financially and asset-wise to land OG.
This is an audacious move but Sam Presti summed it up best four years ago.