RAPTORS BLOG: Toronto's defence loses its way without Anunoby on court

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The NBA doesn’t do arbitration the way Major League Baseball does for free agents and that’s probably a good thing for the Raptors.

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Because if OG Anunoby’s representatives were allowed to present a case as to why he deserves a huge new deal this summer, it would be easy to come up with examples, even at this early stage of the season.

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Without Anunoby, who hurt his finger in a freak accident, the Raptors just gave up 128 points to the Milwaukee Bucks, allowing Damian Lillard to go scorched earth on them, as opposed to when Lillard was held to 15 points and one three-pointer back on Nov. 1 with Anunoby in the lineup. The Raptors gave up 51% shooting to the terrible Washington Wizards a game earlier with Anunoby out and 34 points apiece to Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid compared to only 18 for Maxey when Anunoby played.

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Toronto’s defence has looked completely different when its best defender has not played, which makes sense. Anunoby is one of the 10 best defenders in the NBA and probably more accurately in the top four. He’s as versatile as it gets with long arms, athleticism to spare and great instincts and strength.

It’s obvious how valuable he is to the team and it’s a big part of the reason they’ve held him out of trade talks over the years. And that doesn’t even get into his 39% three-point shooting and career best 51% field goal percentage this season.

Per TSN’s Keerthika Uthayakumar, the Raptors allow only 102.3 points per 100 possessions (a mark that would lead the NBA amongst team defences) when Anunoby is on the court, but 115.5 when he’s off of it.

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As great as Pascal Siakam is, there’s a clear case that Anunoby is the second most important Raptor after Scottie Barnes and that he makes more sense as a long-term fit next to the budding star.

That said, Anunoby has had tough luck playing full seasons. While the serious knee injury he suffered in college at Indiana — it caused him to fall in the draft to the Raptors, who promised they’d take him if available — luckily hasn’t caused any issues during his NBA career, a number of random things have popped up, from this most recent injury, to the appendicitis that cost him the championship run and so on.

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Since playing in 74 games as a rookie, Anunoby has played 67, 69, 43 (in a 72-game season), 48 and 67 games. If MLB-style arbitration existed in the NBA, the games missed would be the only ammunition the Raptors would have in denying Anunoby his contractual asks. Perhaps a games-played bonus would work?

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In any event, it doesn’t sound like Anunoby will be able to play in the rematch against Boston on Friday and the team will play three times in the following five days, so there won’t be any downtime to recover.

Whenever Anunoby can’t play, the Raptors might want to consider putting Gary Trent Jr. into the lineup (of course, he’d have to be available as he is dealing with plantar fasciitis, which is always tricky). Trent can help replace Anunoby’s shooting and while he isn’t the type of fundamentally sound defender Anunoby is, he generates a lot of deflections and steals, similar to Anunoby.

THREE STARS

1 – Damian Lillard

2 – Scottie Barnes

3 – Malik Beasley

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