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Stiffs Prospect Watch: OG Anunoby

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The defensive wing suffered a knee injury his sophomore season, but is his ceiling high enough to take a gamble on in the NBA Draft?

Louisville v Indiana Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

If you watch Ogugua "OG" Anunoby play for long enough, you may notice a few things about his game - his defense, his athleticism, his size, and his inexperience.

This is a kid that grew up in Jefferson City, Missouri, the son of a business professor at Lincoln University. He was inspired to play basketball after watching Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson, turning down the chance to play baseball (too boring) and football (too dangerous).

He didn’t begin his career at Indiana as a starter, having to wait for James Blackmon to suffer an injury to get his chance. His role on an offense with Troy Williams, Yogi Ferrell, and Thomas Bryant was minuscule, and for good reason - this was the 11th best offense in the country. Why mess with a good thing?

Anunoby broke onto the national scene in the NCAA tournament, with a special game on defense against the Kentucky Wildcats and their star guard, Jamal Murray. His performance in that game elevated his name into the national conversation, but he decided to return to Indiana for another year of basketball under the tutelage of Tom Crean.

He started his sophomore season with expectations after that breakout NCAA tournament performance, and didn’t disappoint in his first game, a matchup against a projected top-3 pick in Josh Jackson and the Kansas Jayhawks. Anunoby had 13 points, 7 boards, 3 steals, a block, and made all four of his free throw attempts. Jackson had 9 points, 6 rebounds, a steal and a block, but finished 3 for 11 from the field.

Anunoby’s play against Kansas in the Armed Forces Classic wasn’t an outlier. Three weeks later, the sophomore forward went toe to toe with Justin Jackson and the North Carolina Tar Heels, putting up 16 points and 5 rebounds to help Indiana to the upset win.

Unfortunately, his season came to a sudden end during a game against Penn State, where he suffered a knee injury that would sideline him for the remainder of the season. The Nuggets are no stranger to players being limited athletically following a knee surgery - it remains to be seen if he comes back from surgery like Danilo Gallinari or like Malik Beasley.

There are statistical flags regarding Anunoby’s game as well, and I’ll try to portray them in context here.

First, his free throw percentage. Anunoby, for his career, has made 52 percent of his 90 free throw attempts. With 50 career games, that’s 1.8 attempts per game. If he had finished the season, attempting 3.0 free throws per game, and made, say 75 percent of those attempts, he would have finished the season with a 67 percent rate instead of a 56 percent rate. That would put him in the same range as Miles Bridges, TJ Leaf, and Lonzo Ball - players that scouts aren’t quite as concerned about in regards to their free throw shooting.

Second, his 3-point percentage. It’s really tough to be a 3&D prototype if you can’t make 3-pointers, and Anunoby finished his career as a 36.5 percent shooter on 3-point attempts. He has a low release point on his perimeter jumper, and he doesn’t have a compact motion (from gather to release). In his sophomore season, he went 14 for 45 from behind the arc, with defenders able to force him into badly missed shots or turnovers with quick closeouts.

Part of the problem lies in his small sample size. If he had made just six more 3-pointers his second year, he would have finished as a 44 percent shooter from distance. That looks way better than 31 percent, but that’s what happens when there is a small sample.

There are real concerns about his ability to shoot efficiently off the dribble, both inside and outside the arc. According to Hoop Math, 100 percent of Anunoby’s 3-pointers were assisted, which means that zero percent of them came via his own shot creation. That’s like Mudiay-levels bad. But given the space and time to catch and shoot, Anunoby’s shot isn’t poor enough that he’s unplayable. He does shoot 76 percent at the rim, thanks to his ability to do things like this:

That’s what he can do on offense - now it’s time to shift to defense. Anunoby is 6’8”, and although he’s listed at 215 pounds, probably weighed about 230 pounds at his peak. He won’t be 20 years old until July, and reportedly has a 7’6” wingspan.

Anunoby’s physical skills are incredible. He has the quickness to defend guards, using his agility to close out on shooters without sacrificing position to defend against drives. He has the height to guard other wings, and is able to smother their jumper while also jabbing the ball away if they put the ball on the floor. He has the barrel chest and strength to defend big men in the post, preventing them from backing him down while using his prodigious wingspan to contest shots. I can’t help but laugh when I see him force a center into a missed shot without jumping, then spin around to grab the rebound.

His weaknesses on defense are things that could be corrected with experience and coaching. He likes to gamble for steals when pressed into a matchup, likely because he feels comfortable he’ll be able to create a turnover. He’s frequently asked to defend the other team’s top scorer, and that leaves him away from the rim to bang for rebounds. He’s also liable to get lost chasing a player through screens, but in my opinion, it may be due to his success rate at blocking shots that he’s ... bored? His consistency on defense is something to keep an eye on, but for me, not a large enough concern to be scared away.

Anunoby’s teammates have loved playing with. Max Bielfeldt, a forward that transferred to Indiana from Michigan, says Anunoby is “a clown. He’s always cracking funny jokes. He’s sarcastic. But that’s off the floor. He just doesn’t get caught up in the spotlight.”

He’s unselfish, willing to defer to his teammates on offense and praising them for their contributions in interviews. He was born in London, where his father would play soccer with him. His brother, Chigbo, should be able to help him deal with the demands of professional life. After all, Chigbo is a 6’4”, 320 pound defensive tackle who has had a cup of coffee with the Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns, and Minnesota Vikings.

A talented prospect with experience playing other sports, an older sibling with professional sports experience, a sense of humor and an unselfish style of play? Sign me up!

In terms of a pro comparison, I think he is similar to Jae Crowder, just with a higher defensive ceiling. He’s unlikely to ever be the focal point of an offense, due to his struggles in regards to shot creation and ballhandling. He can drive when the lane is open, he’s athletic enough to finish off cuts, and he can develop as a spot-up shooter. Defensively, he may struggle to rebound against larger opponents, but if he’s guarding the best scorer on the other team, he may be away from the rebound scrum more often than not. Once he gets into transition, watch out.

DraftExpress has OG going No. 15 in the draft, Fansided has him going No. 13, Sporting News ranks him as the No. 22 prospect, and Sports Illustrated has him at No. 15 as well.

Were there other players I was more excited about in the draft at this spot than Anunoby? Yes, especially after his knee injury. However, his ceiling as a defensive wing if he’s able to recover from surgery is too high to pass on for Denver. If the Nuggets stay at No. 13, take Anunoby, and hope for the best.

Stiffs Prospects to Watch

Jordan Bell

Lauri Markkanen

Robert Williams

Semi Ojeleye

Poll

Would you be in favor of drafting OG Anunoby

This poll is closed

  • 49%
    Yes - love him as a defensive wing
    (130 votes)
  • 36%
    Yes - but it’s a risk
    (96 votes)
  • 9%
    No - too big of a risk
    (25 votes)
  • 5%
    No - not what the Nuggets need
    (14 votes)
265 votes total Vote Now