Ogugua “OG” Anunoby is the embodiment of a high-risk, high-reward selection. He has the potential to be a top-flight defender at the NBA level who also has three-point shooting and elite athleticism in his skill-set. The only big issue with Anunoby is that he’s coming off a knee injury that required surgery and abruptly ended his sophomore season at the University of Indiana.
Before we get to what Anunoby does and does not do well let’s begin with where his potential starts and that is with his incredible physical profile.
Anunoby has the gift of an elite body-type to go with his freakish athletic talents and those physical gifts are the precursor to what makes Anunoby so special on both ends of the court. He has the holy trinity of physical tools to become a monster at the professional level: Length, strength, and quickness.
Anunoby’s length is undeniably elite. 6-8 is a good height for a forward but an unofficial wingspan of 7-6 is just bewildering. Other notable players that have that same wingspan include DeAndre Jordan, JaVale McGee, and Andre Drummond. The only wing player even remotely close? Kevin Durant, who has a wingspan of 7-5.
Anunoby is able to use his strength to stymie the majority of power forwards at the NBA-level right now and could have the potential to fight down low with centers in time. Offensively, he uses his strength to bully players in the post as well as finish through contact at the rim.
His quickness is what makes Anunoby such a force defensively. He can move laterally with most guards and keep them contained. Not only does Anunoby have plus lateral quickness but he’s also a fast-twitch athlete that uses his athleticism to sky for lobs, slam home offensive rebounds, and recover for blocks on the perimeter and in the paint.
Anunoby has a laundry list of positive influences he will bring to whichever team drafts him but all of it stems from his herculean 235-pound frame and his enormous 7-5 wingspan. Anunoby is a freak athlete that seems to have a body type that was genetically tailored entirely for the sole purpose of being an ideal combo forward in this new modern day and position-less style of basketball.
Elite Defensive Tools
Defense is where Anunoby truly shines. His ability to pair his mammoth frame with feet that are light as a feather make him truly unique on the defensive end and gives him the potential as a lockdown defender that can guard up to five different positions depending on the personnel.
Anunoby has shown the ability to slide his feet horizontally with ease and use his long arms to either limit or completely engulf perimeter players. If a player can get a shot up and over his 9-1 standing reach, then Anunoby gets to show off how much of a fast-twitch athlete he is as he skies to block shots on the perimeter. His explosion vertically and horizontally is fantastic and allows him to alter and reject shots on the perimeter.
The same explosion that Anunoby uses as a leaper also allows him to feast in passing lanes and gobble up steals. Anunoby has solid defensive instincts that allow him to see passing lanes before they actually exist. When those instincts are paired with his wingspan, it allows him to minimize passing windows and secure steals without abandoning his team to play four-on-five. He can play within the defensive scheme and still cause chaos.
Defensively, his strength is a complete game-changer. At 235 pounds of seemingly pure muscle, Anunoby is able to go toe-to-toe with stronger frontcourt players as well as blow up pick-and-roll and dribble handoff sets as they begin. Denver struggled to create turnovers this year and Anunoby’s presence, which can blow up opponents’ offensive actions, would lead to more steals and send opposing offenses into a funk.
Elite wing defenders that can defend against low-post and strength-oriented power forwards as well as contain smaller and quicker guards on the perimeter with ease is a rare and highly valuable commodity in today’s NBA. Pair that with his smothering wingspan and natural instincts and you have a player in Anunoby that can be an eraser on the perimeter and the ideal defender to patch up the Nuggets’ issues
There is no way around the fact that Anunoby is still far from a finished product on the offensive end. He still has issues relying on his strength too often, does not have much creativity with his handles or passing ability, and his shot does have some large questions that need to be answered.
With that being said, there’s so much excitement that surrounds the potential for Anunoby’s future as an offensive player.
Again, Anunoby’s offensive repertoire is mostly based on his athletic gifts. He’s a ferocious straight-line slasher that finishes at the rim with thunderous dunks. He absorbs and finishes through contact with ease evident by his 65.2 percent shooting on two-point shots and his standing in the 88th percentile of prospects at scoring at the rim, according to DraftExpress. Anunoby is also a capable but streaky shooter and is an absolute terror in transition due to his combination of size, speed, and power.
Where his offensive ability truly shines is in his versatility. Thanks to his 235-pound build and elongated 7-6 wingspan, Anunoby can play small forward or power forward interchangeably from day one. Add in that most 19-year-olds are still growing and you have the makings of a prospect who has the potential to grow into a player that does not only guard all five positions but can also play three different spots offensively: Small forward, power forward, and center.
That level of versatility could make him a matchup nightmare for any team.
Anunoby’s frame is what gives him the chance to eventually play some small-ball center if he develops the necessary skills. Traits such as learning to play with a hyperactive motor, setting strong screens and hunting every offensive rebound within reach are all skills that Anunoby can develop over time to become able to play center and would make him more of a potent offensive player to match his defensive capabilities.
The most polarizing aspect of Anunoby’s offensive skill-set is his jump shot.
Over his 50 career games at Indiana, Anunoby shot 36.5 percent on 74 attempts from the three-point distance but from his freshman to sophomore season, his percentage fell from 44.8 to 31.1 percent. That drop, combined with his career 52.2 percent from the free-throw line, is a big red flag but there is reason to believe that Anunoby has a future as a shooter at the NBA level.
For example, before Anunoby hurt his right knee and was ruled out for the remainder of the season, he was on a cold streak from deep. He was 1-10 in the final ten games he played in which dropped his three-point percentage from 37.1 to 31.1 percent. His shot is not as bad as it’s made out to be and he can be an effective shooter if he’ not asked to create the shot himself.
There are issues with Anunoby’s shot mechanics but the balance and overall fluidity of his form look fine. His bigger issue is that he does not trust his shot, his mechanics are inconsistent, and his release is low and slow. He tends to either fade to the right on his shot or not fully follow through.
All that Anunoby needs to do is tighten up his mechanics. Anunoby’s issues with his shot are correctable and he has a good foundation to start with. If he can mold himself into a 35-37 percent shooter from distance from the power forward spot it would make him significantly more lethal as an offensive talent and would further open up the painted area for him to show off his athleticism.
Anunoby is still 19 and he’ll still be a teenager when his name gets called on draft night. He is by far one of the youngest sophomores in college basketball which bodes well for further development. At 19, Anunoby could still even grow a few inches.
Anunoby’s quiet and hard working mindset paired with his age bodes well for future growth. His shot, while not bad, still has long ways to go if he wants to be a sniper from beyond the three-point line. He could also look to improve his handles to further add to his versatility on the offensive end. For a player that is regarded as a tireless worker, Anunoby’s youth should be a large factor that teams weigh if an organization is willing to look past his knee injury.
Basketball IQ and Awareness
While Anunoby’s physical and instinctual gifts are fantastic, his overall basketball IQ and awareness still have a long ways to go. He is not unintelligent by any stretch but looks to be a step behind more often than he should for a second-year college player. Anunoby tends to fall asleep off-ball on both ends of the floor and can ball-watch too often. It’s not an issue with effort but more with understanding.
Anunoby’s issues with awareness are much worse on the offensive end of the court. He is a half-step slow on offensive rotations and finds himself out of position and looking lost. At times he does not let his game come to him and instead tries to use his power and size to force himself into the offense which leads to him taking bad shots and turning the ball over.
Defensively, Anunoby can feel the need to over-help. He has largely been the main source of defense on every team he’s played on which has led to his nasty habit of ball-watching. Anunoby can get himself left behind when he loses focus and the player he is defending ends up cutting to the rim for an easy layup. If Anunoby can learn to stay engaged, he could become an impenetrable wall on defense.
The issue with Anunoby losing focus from time to time also can bleed into his relentlessness or lack thereof. It does not seem to be an effort issue but for how athletic and long Anunoby is, he does not have the motor to match quite yet. Anunoby is not engaged on every possession and he tends to fall asleep.
Even though his motor can come and go, it does exist. There’s a very real possibility that Anunoby’s youth is why he can tend to lose his concentration. If Anunoby can develop into a relentless player, regardless of the situation, he could elevate his game to an entirely different level. If Anunoby started cutting off-ball more often and slicing in for offensive rebounds it could go a long way to adding to his offensive production.
For Anunoby to play as a small-ball power forward at the next level, he will need to harness his energy and learn to play with more aggression. Pairing his physical gifts with a relentless attack mentality will allow him to be a monster rebounder and could even allow him to play center in small-ball lineups in the future which would be an absolute nightmare matchup for most teams in the league.
Anunoby would have been a lock for a top-1p0 selection until Jan. 18, when he injured his right knee against Penn State. The injury required surgery and ended his sophomore season. He has declared for the 2017 NBA Draft and hired an agent despite questions about his injury status. Going forward, Anunoby may or may not be ready for NBA training camp in the fall leaving his draft stock as volatile as any prospect.
The details of Anunoby’s knee injury were never made public, speculation is that he tore his ACL. For a player that relies so heavily on his athletic gifts, an ACL tear could drastically limit his athletic abilities and, in turn, his effectiveness. The injury leaves a lot of questions about how he will bounce back and will limit his exposure if he cannot perform private workouts for teams throughout the pre-draft process.
On one hand, you have to worry that his knee injury could limit his athleticism that he so heavily relies on. If Anunoby is unable to move as quick laterally and ends up playing with less power and force than he displayed throughout his college career, then his potential ceiling is much lower than originally thought.
On the other hand, Anunoby could bounce back from his injury while also allowing Denver the chance to draft him as a player with top-10 potential that would fit well with the current core. Anunoby has the potential to guard all five positions and be the elite defensive stopper that Denver has been searching for.
There has been a ton of dialogue about how to build a contending team around Nikola Jokic and his lack of defense. A player that gives Denver that opportunity would someone that’s elite defensively on the perimeter, can alter shots at the rim and is still be able to add to the already potent Denver offense.
When it comes to projected range and roster fit, it’s hard to find a better prospect than Anunoby to fit that role.
Denver’s biggest issue on defense was their inability to contain perimeter dribblers paired with Jokic’s inability to erase shots at the rim. Anunoby’s elite defensive tools and physical gifts make him a perfect fit to help make up for the Nuggets’ deficiencies. Anunoby can contain smaller wing players on the perimeter, stall stronger post scorers, and also add the intimidation factor as a shot-blocker at the rim.
Add in Anunoby’s athletic ability and overwhelming strength and you have an ideal three or four-man to play off of Jokic on the offensive end. The potential of Anunoby being able to play the short corner as an offensive rebounder, stretch out to the three-point line and act as a playmaker at the rim, are all great attributes. But what he could bring defensively and how he could fit with Jokic, makes Anunoby a logical target for Denver come draft night.