Raptors

OG Following Star-Studded Footsteps

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It’s much harder to spot the breakout campaign of a defense-first star.

You can look at Brandon Ingram‘s rise in points and efficiency and see what happened. Almost any lead ballhandler just needs a quick glimpse at their assist-to-turnover ratio (A:TO).

But given the intangible nature of defense and the limits of current statistics, it’s much harder to spot the improvements.

What A Defensive Breakout Looks Like Statistically

Most defensive stats are invisible, but there are a few that bear fruit. It may be an over-utilized metric, but steals and blocks matter. OG Anunoby is averaging 2.3 combined steals and blocks (stocks), which is in line with early Kawhi Leonard.

He’s also 8th in the league in deflections. Combine the two of those and you’re looking at a player getting his hands on 5.5 possessions a game.

Finally, even though it’s not a perfect metric, a player’s +/- should rise. If you’re playing elite defense, you should have one of the better +/- metrics on your team. OG clocks in at +6 per 100 possessions, a career high and fourth on the team. The game film shows a talented, versatile defender, and the numbers back that up.

Why Kawhi?

Even though it seems like a lazy comparison — young defensive specialist gets compared to his former teammate in the same role — the reality is that Kawhi is the best blueprint for OG’s development. Both have incredibly strong frames that allow them to absorb contact without moving.

As an example, here’s a video of Kawhi guarding Giannis. Giannis is such an incredible athlete that Freak is part of his nickname, yet see how many times the famously powerful forward fails to move him.

And here is OG last year, facing one of the league’s strongest players in LeBron James, simply refusing to move:

Where He Still Has To Develop- Defensively

OG’s positioning is already elite, as is his man defense and help rotations. If we were comparing him to the trajectory of regular good defenders — think Miles Bridges or P.J. Tucker — then he’d already be good enough.

He’d be an elite role player.

Kawhi is one of the most fearsome perimeter defenders to ever play the game, and to reach that level, OG has to hit another level with his aggressiveness. He could make a mini leap with a little bit better rim protection, but some of that has to do with his positioning in the scheme.

Where OG falls short of Kawhi is how often he steals the ball. When Kawhi is at his highest aggression, even good ball handlers aren’t safe. Giving the ball to a mediocre dribbler is akin to an offensive death wish.

Some of the plays in this video are straight up mean.

Kawhi is mugging some of the NBA’s best ball handlers in just those five minutes. CP3, Simmons, Curry, Westbrook, Oladipo, DeRozan– nobody’s safe. He’s able to make these plays because of his unique combination of length, strength, instincts and quickness. OG is one of the very few players in the league who have a chance to hit that level. He’ll have to be a little more aggressive to do so.

The Offensive Side

No matter how incredible Kawhi is defensively, he wouldn’t be a superstar without being a good offensive player. His ascendance came slowly, building his offensive game brick by brick. He was able to stay on the court by hitting the shots other people created at an efficient rate. When he was scoring 12 or 13 a game, he was extremely efficient (50/37/80 splits) with roughly half his 2s and almost all his 3s from assists.

Those first four rookie contract years look a lot like OG’s development, especially this year.

A Fourth-Year Comparison

OG, Year 4 Kawhi, Year 4
Points Per Game 15.9 16.5
Field Goal % 48% 47.9%
3 PT % 39.8% 34.9%
2 Point Assist % 51% 45%
3 Point Assist % 97.1% 97%

 

While Kawhi created a bit more by himself, OG is a better long-range shooter. Their numbers are very similar otherwise. Right after his fourth year, Kawhi took another jump, which is where OG will hope to emulate him. Kawhi started scoring in the 20’s with similar assist % numbers (45% in his fifth year) and has created the majority of his own baskets ever since. The last three years — starting with his legacy-changing season in Toronto– Kawhi has created over 70% of his own 2s and 30% of his own 3s.

That’s a climb OG will have to continue making strides in, especially in one area.

The Midrange Star Shot

OG is already elite close to the basket, as you would expect from such a strong player and smart cutter. Where he needs to make strides is the NBA’s star shot: A pull-up or post-up midrange.

It’s the hardest shot to stop, and the most reliable way to generate playoff offense if your name isn’t Stephen Curry. This was OG’s first season taking 20% of his two-point shots from the combined midrange area (3-10 feet, 10-16 feet, and 16 feet to the three-point line). He didn’t hit 40% of his shots from any of those areas. Kawhi gets over 40% of his 2s from those areas, and shoots over 40% from every single one.

In case you forgot what Kawhi can do, here’s a quick reminder of how deadly he is in the middle of the floor:

That’s the shot OG will have to develop in order to become a true star, instead of a star role player.

Reasons For Offensive Optimism

The statistical similarities offer some reason for optimism, but numbers alone can’t be enough.

There are a fair amount of players who have a decently close statistical case. Combine that with the player’s mentality, however, and you start seeing the potential for OG’s upside.

The single most important aspect of a star player is their mentality. The willingness to take and potentially miss the big shot is not something every player is built for. There are countless stories from the league’s icons about them being in the huddle and demanding the ball in the last minute. Kawhi has that big-shot DNA, having hit maybe the biggest shot in NBA history.

You know what, it’s been a tough year, let’s watch it again:

That’s the good stuff. Luckily, OG has shown a history of making big shots as well. Everyone knows about the buzzer beater against Boston last year, and deservedly so.

This shot, however has always stuck in my mind as a sign that OG could be a star. Here he’s a rookie, only chipping in a couple points a game. It’s his first playoffs in the NBA. His first series he was playing around 20 minutes a game, lined up against the likes of Otto Porter and Markieff Morris. This round he’s facing LeBron James, it’s Game 3, and he’s already played over 30 minutes twice. In a season where he only played 30+ five times before this round.

In the biggest moment of the 17-18 Raptors season, he does this:

Looking Forward

Even with so many reasons for optimism, it’s still a blueprint that’s very difficult to follow. While he has the statistical markers, clutch history and physical potential, there’s no guarantee he’s going to ever hit Kawhi’s level. There are lesser versions of that player like Khris Middleton or Jaylen Brown that he could end up settling at and still being considered a success. 23-year-old future All-Star candidates at the three don’t grow on trees, even in the East.

The most important thing to remember, however, is just how difficult the road here has been for OG.

He came into the NBA with a broken leg that cost him a giant chunk of his last college year. He had a devastating second year– he went from a key starting cog to Kawhi’s backup, struggled to adjust to his new role, lost a parent, and then had an emergency appendectomy that made him miss the Finals run.

To be where he is already is a mark of how hard he works. With Kawhi and Pascal Siakam as role models for jumping your game up a level in your mid 20’s, there’s no reason why OG can’t follow the blueprint and become a star.

Follow us on Twitter @RaptorsLead for the latest Raptors news and insight. 

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About Treye Seabrook-Fields

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