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The True Value Of O.G. Anunoby

Trade season is upon us, folks! We are about one week away from the deadline which means there will be a nauseating amount of rumors, trade ideas, and conversations surrounding some of the hottest commodities on the chopping block this season. And while there isn’t a big-name star on the market right now that teams can clamor over, there is one player who has 29 teams salivating at the thought of trading for him: Toronto Raptors forward O.G Anunoby. 

The 25-year-old has spent all of his years in the NBA up north (or for me and anyone else who lives in Toronto, right here) and has developed into one of the premier defenders in all of professional basketball. With the Raptors slumping, currently sitting at 23-30 and 12th in the Eastern Conference, many have pondered whether it’s time for Toronto to re-arrange their deck; retool, rebuild, or any other word that has “re” in front of it. That has helped bring Anunoby to the forefront who, according to multiple reports, has grown frustrated with his role on the team and is expected to be up for a big payday in the summer of 2024 when he can opt out of the final year of his deal worth just under $20 million. Multiple teams have been mentioned as potential suitors for Anunoby: the Grizzlies, Suns, Knicks, Pelicans, Lakers, Pacers, and just about any team in the league willing to pay the Raptors’ asking price of multiple picks and/or young prospects. 

There are Anunoby believers and then there are those who say that the Raptors asking price is outrageous. 

This brings us to the question at hand: What is Anunoby’s true value? 

On one end, you can argue that Anunoby is a young, developing player who has shown flashes on offense that resemble that of a potential All-Star who comes pre-packaged with versatility as a defender, with his massive frame, long wingspan, and agility that help him guard an array of archetypes in the modern NBA. 

On the other, Anunoby has never been an All-Star (and doesn’t have an All-Defense selection for that matter). He’s battled with some unlucky injuries and hasn’t played more than 50 games in his last 2 seasons. 

But assessing ‘value’ isn’t as simple as just stating the surface-level facts about a player. Let’s dig deeper, and hopefully help contextualize why the Raptors hold Anunoby in such high regard.

All-World Defense

The main selling point for the 6-foot-8 forward with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and a reported 250lb frame is his top-of-the-line defense. Anunoby is a rare type of 3-n-D wing. He’s not only capable of being the primary defender on your prototypical wing stars like Jayson Tatum, Kevin Durant, or LeBron James but he’s also able to guard up and down just as proficiently. The Raptors’ primary defender for Nikola Jokic? Anunoby. The Raptors’ primary defender for Donovan Mitchell? Anunoby. The Raptors’ primary defender for Giannis? You guessed it, Anunoby. 

O.G. helps plug holes in an astonishing way for the Raptors’ defense and does so with his out-of-this-world versatility. He consistently ranks near the top of the league in B-Ball indexes matchup versatility metric, which matches the eye test. The Raptors are nearly 4 points per 100 possessions better on defense when Anunoby plays, by far the best mark among Toronto’s starters. Earlier this season, Anunoby was getting some much-deserved DPOY love as a steal machine (still leads the league in that category), and constantly ranks near the top when it comes to deflections, also. 

You don’t really have to sell anyone on the fact that Anunoby is a top-tier defender, possibly in a class of his own when it comes to the plethora of positions he can guard at a high level.

Why hasn’t that amounted to an All-defense nod? Primarily, availability. We’ll get to that later. 

Dynamic Shooting

A lot of times players just get labeled as ‘3-n-D’ without completing both sides of the bargain. Anunoby isn’t one of those players. 

For his career, he’s a 37% 3-point shooter on decent volume and has even had 2 seasons where he’s almost cracked 40%. He is, admittedly, having a down year on that end this season, hitting only 36% of his threes on over 5 attempts a game, but his track record shows that he has the propensity and capability to knock down threes at a consistent rate. He attempts the second-most catch-and-shoot threes on the Raptors (only behind Gary Trent Jr this year)  and has knocked down 40% of them over the last 3 seasons. 

Not only is he elite in the ‘D’ category of 3-n-D but he more than fulfills his obligations on the offensive end as well, as a floor spacer.  

Outlier Skills & Growth In Other Departments

At 25 years old, O.G. is still trying to squeeze every ounce of juice out of his game possible. Again, one of the primary reasons he’s even being thrown into trade discussions is that he is, reportedly, looking to spread his wings even more. Or at least more than what Toronto can provide at this moment with Anunoby’s USG% falling behind Siakam, VanVleet, Barnes, and even Trent Jr’s this season. 

The guy wants more. And I honestly can’t knock him for wanting to, at the very least, have the opportunity to showcase some of his other skills. 

There have been stretches where, as a result of injuries to other Raptors, O.G. has been able to expand his game offensively and see how he does in an extended role. 

Quite frankly, the results have shown a mixed bag. 

His pull-up shooting hasn’t been particularly good. The most he’s ever attempted in a season is 1.6 per game in 2021-2022 where he shot 29.9%, including 26.7% on pull-up threes. The creation off-the-dribble has been hit or miss and he ranks in the 32nd percentile among players in his position on all mid-range shots. Movement shooting is not a consistent or even effective thing for him right now.

That being said he has taken considerable leaps as a driver, attacking closeouts, finishing strong, and using his strength to withstand contact and finish through opponents.

He’s developed a bit of a post-game and doubled down on ™Bully Ball (trademarked by Samson Folk), out muscling defenders into deep post position and throwing dump-off and pitch passes in the process.

He’s an improved passer, a better post player, and has honed in on his strength-based creation in a remarkably unique way. If he were to break through and become a true star, it would be because of the early work he’s done in these departments. 

The Injury Question

Many will point to Anunoby’s availability (or lack thereof) as a reason for Toronto to lower its asking price. But, let’s look at Anunoby’s injury history: he slipped all the way to 23rd in the 2017 draft because of an ACL injury – but has officially only missed 2 games his entire career for a knee injury ever since. During the Raptors championship season, he missed time recovering from a concussion and then missed their entire championship run because of a burst appendix. In the 3 seasons since, he’s had an eye injury after numerous eye gougings, a couple of ankle sprains, a calf injury, a lingering finger injury, and a hip pointer, and now, he’s recovering from a wrist sprain suffered after taking a nasty fall during the Raptors vs. Warriors game just last week. 

All that to say – his injuries aren’t connected in any way and he’s had some bad luck. If you look at the time missed, it looks worse than it actually is. So to label him as ‘injury-prone’ is a bit of a stretch. 

The Value Proposition

And now to the question posed at the top of this article: Why so high on O.G.? 

This season, the league has seen an unprecedented level of parity. I already discussed how it’s helped embolden an offensive explosion in a previous article, but it’s had other residual effects. Primarily, a good ol’ fashion stalemate. 

There isn’t a ton of separation between the very bottom of each conference and the tippy top. 

That means teams don’t want to give up on their seasons yet. 

This means teams don’t want to trade their players and prep for a high lotto pick. 

Which, ultimately, means whoever ends up selling the best possible asset first, might end up getting a King’s ransom. And as I pointed out off the top, Anunoby seems to be the top prize at this season’s deadline. 

Outside of the parity factor, his skill set is one that can be plugged into virtually any roster. The Raptors know that for a contender, especially with this seasons even playing field, Anunoby could mean the difference between a Conference Finals run and an NBA championship. Throw O.G. on the Suns or Grizzlies and they probably become the favorites. 

As Sportsnet’s Michael Grange pointed out recently, there isn’t a team in the NBA where Anunoby wouldn’t start. That, in itself, has value. 

On top of that, he’s young and still has at least 1.5 seasons left on his current affordable deal. Any team trading for him would be also be acquiring his bird rights, allowing them to offer the most money to him when it comes time to pay up. 

Has the Rudy Gobert deal and the Dejounte Murray trade somewhat inflated the market? Absolutely. 

But – the market is still dry right now.

Anunoby could be the best player available at the deadline and Toronto would be naive not to recognize their position of leverage. 

That being said, they don’t need to trade Anunoby now. They can wait until the summer, at which point teams will have a clearer idea of what draft picks and players they can offer. Or they can wait until the next deadline and still trade him for a haul because of his bird rights. 

That is true value. 

Aside from the reported dissatisfaction, his sheer value is the main reason Anunoby is even being discussed in deals. Anunoby’s value is so high that what the Raptors get in return could potentially help them salvage this current iteration of the team. For as good as Trent and VanVleet have been for the last month, the potential returns for those players wouldn’t be enough to cause a tectonic shift on the outlook of this team.

Even from the Raptors perspective, it is much easier to find players that can replicate what VanVleet or Trent do than to find a player with Anunoby’s skillset. 

Sometimes fans get caught up in the idea of ‘value’ and assume that a player’s value to one team should be the same to another. But that’s far from the case. 

Value varies and changes due to circumstances. When a team has a boatload of future draft picks like the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Pelicans, the value of those picks becomes less and less because having more of something makes it more dispensable, especially when you don’t have the roster spots to draft and house all of those picks. 

The same thing applies to trading for players. When you have an abundance of picks or a plethora of prospects and your aspirations are to compete now, it makes it much easier to move those picks and prospects for a player like Anunoby. 

That’s why the Knicks have been so heavily rumored to be interested in his talents because they have the picks to spare. The same applies to Grizzlies, Suns, and Pelicans. 

Meanwhile the Lakers remain hesitant to move their only two available 1st round draft picks in 2027 and 2029 because the scarcity of their long-term assets..

So yes, while the Raptors are asking for and looking for what appears to be a King’s ransom when it comes to Anunoby, in reality, depending on the team, the “value” of those picks comes into question.

But the value of Anunoby? Well, that’s both undeniable and undefinable.

And there’s no reason to think the Raptors should settle for anything less.

Because the teams who want him, have the goods to pay for him… including the Raptors.