Raptors’ OG Anunoby could follow path of Jerami Grant or Andrew Wiggins. Should he?

This being the peak season for high-level competition in the NBA, let’s talk about, naturally, the Detroit Pistons.

OK, that wasn’t very nice. The Pistons have a potential superstar in Cade Cunningham, some nice ancillary pieces and another high lottery pick. They could be a good team in a few seasons, and a fun one as soon as next year. Regardless, they are not good at this moment, and that’s been true for many, many, many consecutive moments.

The Pistons are also the team Jerami Grant chose to go to as a free agent a couple of offseasons ago. Reporting at the time indicated Grant could either go to Detroit and play a primary offensive role or stay in Denver to play a key defensive role but be down behind the likes of Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray and, eventually, Michael Porter Jr. on offense. Grant would fill the need of defending some of the league’s best scorers in the world and likely play as many minutes as he could handle. The contracts reportedly offered were similar: $60 million over three years. Grant was 26 at the time. He had never had a usage percentage over 18 percent — league average is 20, by definition — in his six-year career. He chose Detroit. He wanted to see what he could do.

In his first season as a Piston, Grant took approximately 50 percent more shots per minute played than he did in Denver. His usage jumped from 18 to 28.5 percent. His true-shooting percentage dropped, as it usually does with added volume, from 59.1 percent to 55.6. A year later, the Pistons drafted Cunningham, and Grant seems like one of the most likely difference-makers to be traded between the end of the season and next trade deadline. In Grant’s two seasons in Detroit, the Pistons went 43-111. They finished 26th and 28th in offensive efficiency. The problems transcended Grant, but that’s kind of the point: If he is one of your two most important offensive players, there appears to be a cap on how dangerous of a team you can be. Grant has presumably had a lot of the questions regarding just how good he can be in this league answered.

This is not a criticism of Grant. It’s natural to want to test your limits in the prime of your career, especially in a league that a) has contracts that are limited to four years, for the most part, and b) still values ​​offense more than defense when it’s time to hand out guaranteed money. NBA players are mostly confident people, proven by the fact that they made the best basketball league in the world. Most of them not only believe they can do more individually, but also that doing that will put the team that they are on in a better position to win. Grant probably still believes he can do more as an offensive player, and that it will help any team he is on improve. He might not be entirely wrong.

Grant came to my mind over the last few weeks as Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report reported “word has circulated among rival front offices that (OG) Anunoby grew dissatisfied at times with his role in Toronto.” Fisher took pains to say Anunoby and his representatives to Toronto have not expressed that, and he openly said the “conversation around him has been driven more by external interest in acquiring” Anunoby. All of which is to say, Anunoby is good, and other teams would like him to play for them, seeing a potential four’s-a-crowd situation in Toronto as a path to accomplishing that goal.

As deeply felt — or not! — as those feelings might actually be for Anunoby, you can see why other teams would opportunistically ascribe them to him. In the first 10 games of the year, when Pascal Siakam was still working his way back from an injury and Scottie Barnes’ offensive potential was still being questioned, Anunoby had a team-high usage of 24.4 percent, averaging 20.6 points and 18.7 field- goal attempts per game. For the rest of the season, which coincided with Siakam’s return, he had a 19.3 percent usage, fourth among the usual starters and ahead of only Barnes, averaging 16.2 points and 13.4 shots. A lot of things changed, obviously, and there is no indication they are going to change back in the other direction.

• Siakam returned, finishing with a team-high 25.7 percent usage. He also earned a third-team All-NBA spot. Now, for a top option, Siakam’s volume was not particularly high: Only Houston (Kevin Porter Jr., 23.9 percent) and Orlando (Cole Anthony, 24.5 percent) had lower-volume “No. 1″ guys. If Siakam can develop (or redevelop?) his pull-up 3 over the summer, it’s reasonable to think that number could creep up rather than down next season.

• Fred VanVleet was named an All-Star and showed he can be one of the best high-volume 3-point shooters, on a mixed diet of types of looks, in the league. His usage was 23.3 percent last year, and maybe that ticks down a bit next season, but it would be silly to not leverage VanVleet’s shooting ability when he is on the floor.

• Barnes was named Rookie of the Year despite a usage of 18.7 percent, the lowest of the starting quintet. You can safely assume that goes above 20, at the very least, this coming season.

In other words, those three players will largely dictate next year’s offense. Unless the Raptors’ front office slow-plays things, going all-in on Barnes’ timeline and moving on from VanVleet and Siakam, that is not likely to change over the next few seasons.

There is still room for Anunoby to grow as a player in Toronto, but not necessarily in terms of volume. The Raptors have done a nice job allowing him to expand his role, with his usage going up from the previous year in each of his seasons but one. Until this year, when a broken finger messed with Anunoby’s shot for months, his efficiency as a scorer stayed steady or rose, too. Those are good signs. He has been given more to do as a creator in perimeter-isolation situations as well as in the post. (He wasn’t particularly effective in either scenario, scoring at 11th-percentile efficiency in isolation and 30th-percentile efficiency in the post in The Raptors want to make Anunoby more of an offensive threat, because without the highest level of offensive superstar, they want to make themselves as unpredictable and democratic as possible. Still, it is his very good defence, which comes with immense positional flexibility, that accounts for most of his value to the Raptors.

The long-term question for Anunoby is whether he is content with that kind of growth. He has guaranteed two years left on his contract, with a player option for a third, in 2024-25. Time moves quickly in the NBA. Depending on if he opts out or not, Anunoby will be nearly 27 or 28 years old the next time he is a free agent, meaning that contract will almost surely cover his prime seasons. If Anunoby wonders whether he can carry a team offensively, that is not going to happen with the Raptors. If he and his representatives believe raising his offensive role in the next few years will be crucial to setting his value before that contract, it is fair for them to think Toronto might not be the best place for him.

There is the other side of the coin, though: Anunoby goes to a place where he can have a bigger role and, like Grant, gets his answer but also flirts with 30 wins on an annual basis instead of 50. Has Grant’s leaguewide value skyrocketed because he went to a place where he had a bigger offensive role, filled it with so-so efficiency, but failed to be a part of a winning team? It’s impossible to say, because we don’t have access to the parallel universe in which Grant stayed in Denver. It’s hard to believe adequate success in a different role for a worse team makes him more valuable to teams than extreme success in a familiar role for a better one — especially a role that is so coveted in the league.

The opposite situation, meanwhile, is playing out in the NBA Finals. For years, Andrew Wiggins was criticized for his shot selection and lack of fire as a primary option in Minnesota. He was dealt to the Warriors, told to focus on defense and rebounding and has been the second-best player in the finals for a team one win away from winning a title, and no less than the fourth-most important player for Golden State overall . Wiggins is a free agent after next season, and if he continues to contribute at this rate, he is going to get paid very handsomely.

Admittedly, this is an unfair comparison. Wiggins was the first pick in 2014, which meant he got more money on his rookie contract than Anunoby (a late first-rounder) or Grant (a second-rounder). He was immediately thrust into a top role and received a maximum-value rookie extension based more on the idea that he might one day fill that role well rather than the current reality, which is that he is a solid-to-very good starter on a team with a transcendent player whose presence makes Wiggins more effective. Nonetheless, it is hard to think of a situation that would have better highlighted what makes Wiggins special than the one in which he finds himself now. Wiggins had a 22.4 usage percentage in the regular season, and that has fallen to 20.4 in the playoffs. His career is going great, despite an average number of touches.

Ultimately, there is no wrong choice; it is just a matter of priorities. Practically speaking, it seems very unlikely the Raptors will proactively look to move Anunoby this offseason, as they are content to see how Barnes develops and what happens with other core players in extension talks this offseason and free agency next offseason.

Anunoby is already a very good NBA player with a chance to be more than that. How he wants to go about achieving that will be fascinating.

(Top photo of OG Anunoby: Jason Getz / USA Today)


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