At the rate he’s going, O.G. Anunoby is on track to earn the first All-Defensive selection of his career this season.
He might even win Defensive Player of the Year.
As much attention as Anunoby has gotten for the leap he’s making offensively, he has been better than ever on the defensive end of the court. That’s saying something considering he has been in the conversation for best perimeter defender in the NBA in the past.
It helps that Anunoby has been able to stay healthy, of course. But his numbers are up across the board, and he’s put himself on the national radar with how well he’s defended a number of stars.
Let’s take a closer look.
O.G. Anunoby’s defensive stats speak for themselves
Anunoby is averaging 2.3 steals and 0.9 blocks per game, both of which are career highs. In total, he’s picked up 73 steals and blocks — otherwise known as “stocks” — through 23 games, putting him a hair behind only Brook Lopez (79) for most in the NBA.
Anunoby is also averaging 3.7 deflections per game. Guess what? That’s one of the highest marks in the NBA.
No matter how you slice it, Anunoby has been a highly disruptive defender to start the season. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time, and his massive 7-3 wingspan helps him make some truly stupendous plays both at the rim and on the perimeter.
Those stops serve as the foundation of a hyper-aggressive Toronto defense that is among the best in the league. The Raptors force a ton of turnovers and get out in transition at a frequency no other team can match.
Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes are pretty disruptive defenders themselves, but Anunoby is the one leading the charge for the Raptors.
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O.G. Anunoby is your favorite player’s worst nightmare
Some players are better off-ball defenders than on-ball defenders. That’s not the case with Anunoby. Not only can he put out fires all over the court when he’s roaming around like a free safety, but he’s also Toronto’s answer to the best players in the NBA.
Luka Doncic, Donovan Mitchell, Kevin Durant — name a star, and there’s a good chance Anunoby has gotten under his skin.
The variety of players Anunoby has had to defend so far this season speaks to how malleable he is as a defender. At 6-7 and somewhere between 232 and 250 pounds, he’s strong enough to defend the likes of Doncic and Durant. He might not be as quick as guards like Mitchell or Dejounte Murray, but getting around him is no easy feat.
Mitchell is torching defenders in isolation this season at a rate of 1.13 points per possession, ranking him in the 82nd percentile. If he can’t simply blow by his defender, he can usually shake him loose with a crossover or two.
With that in mind, come for Mitchell trying to break down Anunoby and stay for Anunoby meeting Dean Wade at the rim:
Want more? What about this block on Doncic:
OK, one more. Watch Anunoby blanket Durant on this drive:
Only to do the same to Kyrie Irving later in the same game:
There are numbers that contextualize Anunoby’s defensive value. According to BBall Index, only eight players currently have a higher matchup difficulty rating than him this season, meaning he takes on some of the hardest assignments in the league on a nightly basis.
Additionally, only 13 players have a higher versatility rating, the result of him spending real minutes guarding every position. Anunoby defends mostly shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards, but he’ll pick up point guards and centers when needed.
The most impressive part? Jimmy Butler, who has earned five All-Defensive selections in his career, and Patrick Beverley, who has three All-Defensive selections, are the only other players in the top 20 in both matchup difficulty rating and versatility rating.
Simply put, guarding as many stars and positions as Anunoby does is not normal.
It’s not like Anunoby is a passenger on offense, either. He’s averaging 19.3 points per game on 48.4/34.9/82.8 shooting splits through a quarter of the season.
As TSN’s Gilbert McGregor wrote following Anunoby’s masterclass against Doncic and the Mavericks, his improved offense and ball-hawking defense are quickly making him one of the best two-way threats in the league.