Toronto Raptors: OG Anunoby Officially Wally Pipp’d Norman Powell

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 19: OG Anunoby /

OG Anunoby was set on a trial by fire when Norman Powell went down and instead of coming through the other side, he’s breakdancing in the flames.

Ever hear the legend of Wally Pipp? It’s June 2, 1925 the New York Yankees started their season with an atrocious 15-26 record and are on a five game losing streak.  First basemen Wally Pipp has a headache and asks manager Miller Huggins to replace him with Lou Gehrig in the lineup.

Gehrig and the Bronx Bombers proceed, winning the game with the Iron Horse hitting three-of-five pitches. The Yankees never looked back, Gehrig started his consecutive games streak of 2,130 games that day and Pipp never started another game for the Yanks.

Instead of a headache, Norman Powell found himself sidelined with a hip pointer after taking a tumble on his way to the rim against the Boston Celtics on November 12th. And as Powell made his way to the locker room OG Anunoby made his way to court off the bench and never came back.

The Raptors starting lineup is has had their ups and downs and it’s been that way for multiple years. Ever since the days of Luis Scola the Drakes negative net rating and that trend continued with Powell. At – 6.1 the Raptors found themselves at a net negative whenever their starting lineup graced the court.

Powell never put it together in the starting five and that’s mostly due to fit.  He was averaging just 8.3 points on 41 percent shooting this season, shooting 31 percent from beyond the arc and a 51.6% true shooting percentage.

Powell’s typically shorter than anyone who guards him (unless opponents are going for funky cross matches) and given his quickness he should be able to flash past his opponents but it hasn’t translated.

Fast break dunks are at a minimum,  Powell only has  a handful of dunks on the entire season and none of which have turned the bench or ACC into a frenzy.

TORONTO, ON – APRIL 26: Norman Powell
TORONTO, ON – APRIL 26: Norman Powell /

His offensive game has been completely enveloped and muted. Powell’s role coming into the season is much that of the late Demarre Carroll, spot up, hit your three’s and attack close outs. Obviously, that’s all within Mr.Serious’ wheelhouse but he’s struggled to even grasp the wheel itself.

In those previous starter minutes he was at the top of the key to the wing, opposite that of Kyle Lowry. Powell was able to go downhill constantly, Now, he’s slotted into the corner. There was a time when Powell was a sniper from deep, shooting 40% from 3 (50% from the corners).

Two years ago, on less than two attempts per game Powell is 33%  from the corner (35.1% from deep) this year and when you can’t make that jumpshot it shrinks the floor. Those driving lanes that DeRozan likes to skirt (skrt) down are blocked because Powell has built brick houses on them.

DeRozan and Lowry draw spotlights on them every possession, double teams shades and all. If you can’t hit the three in either corners the opponent can double up with impunity. Mistakes made during helter skelter by Kyle Anderson and Danny Green here eventually become the gameplan in the playoffs.

Why stretch the defense to guard the perimeter when you can just sink down on Deebo to make him shoot over two sets of arms?

Enter OG Anunoby. Shooting 39.6% from range and 40% from the corners (per he’s more than found money. That -6.1 net rating now evolves to 0.3, barely above even for the first time in years.

Although Anunoby averages the same points as Powell over his seven starts, his offensive rating ballooned to 126 per 100 possessions. And that’s because he’s found his niche faster than Sonic finding rings in the Green Hill Zone.

By OG simply existing on the court instead of Powell, gives Lowry and DeRozan that extra space to operate in the lane. He’s the  Quavo feature on any track out today, you he’s gonna hit you with that dope triplet flow and maybe a chorus. It’s new, it works, it’s hot right and it can really make your song just like the 3 point shot in the Raptors offense.

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Given the Raptors new pass heavy offense the corner three is vital.  And with the new style of play that relies on passing that spacing starts a positive feedback loop.

The better you shoot, the wider the driving lanes are, the better Lowry and DeRozan score, the more Lowry and DeRozan score the more attention they garner, leaving you open more often, thus the better you shoot. But the shooting needs to be the catalyst.

The Raptors need floor spacers; finally taking a step into the 2010’s the Raps are 6th in 3-point attempts but are a 21st by percentage only shooting 36% per Cleaning the Glass.

Shooting is at a premium, that’s why CJ Miles is chucking 6.4 3-pointers per game and it’s why Anunoby fits as a vital starter. Although Anunoby wasn’t known to shoot from range in his college years, the basket looks like the a swimming pool to him.

OG Anunoby has made the corner his home on the court mostly because he doesn’t need the ball to generate his offense. a back cut here, a strafing 3 point shot there and a cloak of rookie reputation is enough to keep the defense guessing in the halfcourt. Nevermind his speed and jumping ability in the open floor.

The thing about being an explosive athlete (or at least being known as one) is that’s all people expect you to do. Every gap in the defense looks like a launching pad while Anunoby also sees it as a hutong for a pass. Does the Raptors offense need this? No, but it does help reinforce the culture change that Dwane Casey has tried to put forward this year.

Everyone touches the ball, everyone shoot and everyone can, and should, pass. Dribble, pass or shoot and everyone must move. That egalitarian fluid style is one of the new era and it works on both sides of the ball.

You are what you can defend. And At 6’4″ 215 pounds Norman Powell is a two-guard. Powell’s speed and lengthy arms are ideal for guarding 1’s and 2’s; those who prance  around screens and flitter down seams. His arms are long enough to engulf short guards and stifle passing lanes created by off-ball screens. Powell is tenacious on the perimeter but that alone isn’t enough to guard today’s small forwards.

It’s almost elementary to say this but Norm is too shrimpy to reliably guard 3’s. And the Raptors need a wing that enable DeRozan’s hiding not expose him to the elements. Tall wings just shoot over him and Power wings outweigh Powell by three stone. He’s a great stop-gap when switching up at the end of the shot clock but that should end his stints with forwards.

Slap on an extra 35 pounds, 5 inches and a flamingo’s wingspan and you have a real small forward for now and the future, you have OG Anunoby. Being 6’9″, a pterodactyl with alley cat agility gives Anunoby immense defensive versatility, meaning he can guard anyone from James Harden to Kristaps Porzingis with the Raptors climbing the ranks to 10th best defense in the league.

Anunoby leaves Dwane Casey with more options when it comes to hiding DeRozan without compromising the integrity of the defense. He never needs to step out of his role and he excels at what the Raptors (and the league) want out of a wing ; three and D with size. Anunoby just gives it to you with sprinkles on top. Why keep that on the bench for later when it works right now?

Anunoby’s calling card entering the NBA draft was his amazing athletecism, primarily vertically, but it’s translated laterally. Always in a stance Anunoby’s fast enough to get ahead (not just keep up with) of opposing drives.

Even when getting lost by the Beard’s step patented step back Anunoby has the quickness to make up the step and make a contest that nearly blocks the shot. That’s what being 6’9″ with extendo arms can do for you. Anunoby doesn’t need to overextend in any way to guard Harden. Arms wide to contain the speed and arms high to contain the shot. He knows he’s bigger than Harden and instead of making spectacular

Length is key in the NBA today. It’s why the Celtics have the best defense in the league, it’s the reason why the Warriors lineup of destroys dreams (even Pre-KD) and it’s the reason why OG can guard Kristaps Porzingis.

Of course this is only in pinches but Anunoby’s length leaves him in position to compensate for mistakes and lock off angles of would-be baskets. Porzingis has makes a living this year off simply shooting the ball over his defender, dude is 7’3″.

Anunoby is not only able to make the switch but resist the drive and contest the shot by simply playing hands up defense. For all the grit Powell displays he’ll never be able to switch onto power forwards, even small ball 4’s will feast on barbecue chicken.

There is a saving grace in this for Powell. Ever since he’s been moved back to the bench he’s perked up averaging 14.7 points, 2 assists and 2 rebounds off the bench. Usage has spiked and Mr. Serious getting all of those crazy lanes to the rim that were stifled during his stint in the starting lineup.

Off the bench there are no clear archetypes to antagonize him defensively so his switchability is more valued than ever.

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Anunoby was set on a trial by fire when Norman Powell went down and instead of coming through the other side, he’s break dancing in the flames. His style on both sides of the ball is exactly what the Raptors need; sometimes

it’s hard to truly trust a rookie when wins are on the line. Powell’s place in the starting lineup was always a little sketchy and Anunoby was always the future of the position, he just happens to be the present too. Unless Demar DeRozan, Anunoby or Powell get traded, Mr. Serious is coming off the bench until further notice.