‘All-defence absolutely,’ Raptors back NBA steals champion O.G. Anunoby for defensive honours


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It’s been a mediocre season overall for the Toronto Raptors, but one thing nobody can claim about the team is that they can’t defend.

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Only four teams surrendered fewer points per 100 possessions than the Raptors following the all-star break and overall Toronto was right around the Top 10 for the year.

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The club set a franchise record for steals in a season and that was a big part of the defensive success. The team also deflected tons of balls, with the usual candidates also ranking amongst the NBA leaders in deflections.

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“Well, I think that just kind of from a starting point of what we want to play like, I would say being aggressive is right up there,” said head coach Nick Nurse after the regular season finale against Milwaukee on Sunday.

“Being aggressive ball pressure, etc. So I mean, that’s something that we emphasize and it’s good to see it. When you when you sit down and say, well, how are we going to play and this is this is one thing we can do well, and to do it over the course of 82 games means there was a lot of good effort and energy and a lot of good pressure and aggressiveness out there,” Nurse said.

Indeed. We haven’t seen kings of the steal around these parts as dominant as these Raptors since Rickey Henderson played for the Blue Jays.

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O.G. Anunoby became the first Raptor ever to lead the NBA in steals per game, Fred VanVleet tied for second (with Canadian Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) and Gary Trent Jr. tied for fourth. For good measure, Anunoby joined Marcus Camby (blocked shots) as the only Raptors to ever lead the league in a major statistical category (Doug Christie finished second in steals twice as a Raptor).

If Anunoby doesn’t make the all-defensive first team and get votes for defensive player of the year, the voters have gotten it horribly wrong. On any given night, Anunoby will guard a centre, a point guard, or anything in between, all at an elite level.

“He really had some tough defensive assignments night after night after night,” Nurse said of Anunoby.

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“The steals thing is kind of a unique thing for him. He can really dart into a passing lane at any moment and he’s such a big body and player to do that. Usually those guys are smaller, quicker guys that are just in the mix for that stuff, so that’s unique. But as we have talked about many times, he really has guarded literally every position and had some nights where he’s given some really, really good players a tough time out there,” Nurse said, before going to bat for his player.

“I mean, I hope he gets recognized for that. I can’t see who else does what he does defensively and positionally in the league and does such a good job of that.”

Nurse isn’t wrong and big man Precious Achiuwa certainly agreed.

“Defensive Player of the Year. All-Defence. Absolutely,” Achiuwa said when asked about Anunoby.

“No question. The way he plays defence, his instincts… it’s crazy.”


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