For the 47th time this season OG Anunoby took his place around the Raptors logo at centre court at the Air Canada Centre as the club’s starting small forward. The question is for how much longer? The Raptors blew out the visiting Detroit Pistons 123-94 to improve to 42-17 and maintain a half-game lead over the Boston Celtics for first place in the Eastern Conference, ending their home losing streak at one. So, clearly, who they start at small forward can’t be causing that much trouble. Any problems the Raptors have are like lottery winners complaining about their taxes, as far as the rest of the NBA is concerned. But considering where the Raptors are hoping to go, everything counts. And what happened in Anunoby’s 18 minutes of floor time illustrated the challenges and some of the opportunities of having a player whose promise exceeds his accomplishment starting on a team determined to make their first NBA Finals appearance. By Anunoby’s standards he broke out offensively – finishing with eight points on four shots – which is kind of telling. No one is expecting him to be a huge contributor offensively. He earned his place in the lineup for his defensive acumen – unusual for a rookie, but at six-foot-eight, 230 pounds, Anunoby is unusual as his physical advantages have made him a tough matchup for some of the most athletic wing players in the sport. Just ask the Pistons’ Blake Griffin who tried to back down Anunoby on a switch and had to give up and pass the ball out at one point against the rookie, or Reggie Bullock, who scored eight of his 14 points in the second quarter when Anunoby was sitting, but just two in the third quarter when Anunoby was the primary defender. “I don’t know if he knows the details and the minute things of scouting and understanding players and what they do,” says Kyle Lowry regarding Anunoby’s defensive approach. “I think [it’s] just brute toughness, competitiveness and just being a strong, athletic kid.” It’s on the other side of the ball that Anunoby has begun to show his lack of experience and the Raptors may find him wanting.
Can Raptors seriously contend with struggling rookie Anunoby starting?
Sportsnet | Feb 28