OG Anunoby is ready and willing to take on more offensive responsibilities.
Toronto’s starting small forward met the media for the first time this season via video call Friday saying he had a short, but productive off-season and is ready to expand his game further.
“Yeah, I think so. Just being more aggressive, looking for my own shot, looking to get other people involved. Just trying to do more,” Anunoby said.
Anunoby had a breakout season and playoffs, emerging as an excellent two-way player for the Raptors after showing flashes — primarily defensively — when in the lineup over his first two seasons. Anunoby averaged 10.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 0.7 blocks and shot 39% on three-pointers in 69 games, all but one of them starts. He was even better in the post-season, providing standout defence and a memorable game-winning shot. Anunoby deserved a spot on an all-defensive team, but doesn’t yet have the league-wide recognition. Expect that to change after this year.
The schedule was released up to March 4 and features five back-to-backs for the Raptors, including four on the road.
“The schedule incorporates steps to reduce travel, including the use of a “series” model. In some instances where a team is scheduled to play twice in one market, those games have been scheduled to be played consecutively. Each team will play an average of four “series” in the First Half — two at home and two on the road. Additional steps include more instances of teams playing consecutive road games against teams that are geographically close, and roughly 50% fewer instances of teams making single-game road trips,” the Raptors said.
IBAKA TALKS RAPTORS DEPARTURE
Earlier this week Ibaka met with the Clippers media and said he “never thought I would leave the Raptors.”
He also didn’t think the front office would come to visit him if they weren’t serious, but, in the end, Ibaka was left disappointed by the one-year offer and rejoined good friend Kawhi Leonard for $19 million over two seasons (Ibaka can opt out after a season if he wants) in Los Angeles.
“When I said I wanted to stay with the Raptors, it was true. But last minute, things change,” he said. “People see things differently,” Ibaka said.
Ibaka said it was a tough decision nonetheless because of the love he has for the city, the organization and the fans.
It’s no secret that the Raptors are prioritizing having the cap space after this season to make a max offer to Giannis Antetokounmpo. That precluded Ibaka getting a multi-year deal, like the two years he got from the Clippers. The team still could have offered more than the reported $12 million to Ibaka, but that would have meant depth would have to be sacrificed (since Aron Baynes, Chris Boucher and maybe Alex Len and DeAndre’ Bemby would not have been able to be added with the team still staying under the luxury tax).
Are they better off with Ibaka alone, or with this centre rotation and Bembry? That’s hard to say at this point, but this corner is high on Baynes, in particular.
FINCH ON LOWRY
New Raptors assistant coach Chris Finch got an early look at Kyle Lowry when both were with the Houston Rockets back in 2011. Nobody saw Lowry becoming a perennial all-star, but Finch saw something in Lowry even back then and has been happy to see him become a star.
“It’s been phenomenal to watch Kyle develop,” Finch said on a video call on Friday.
“I was with him for one year in Houston, that was my first year in the league and it was the lockout year. There was a lot of kind of moving parts to that season for us just with coach (Kevin) McHale, it was his first year, Kyle was trying to lead a young team that was transitioning from a bunch of veteran players — the Battiers and the Chuck Hayeses and guys that he had come into the Rockets with. So everything was in flux, he was still a great player, you could see the tenacity by which he played with and he’s just kinda rounded out his game and his confidence and the ability to kinda just control a game and win a game and take over a game,” he said.
“Those were things that he didn’t have quite yet in Houston, but he got the opportunity and perfected (those things) and he’s a champion now. And once you achieve that status that’s well deserved and never to be taken away from you.”
He also likely follows through with the desire to show more offensively after working on bettering his ball-handling, shooting off the dribble and passing. He’s also ready to play some small-ball centre, when necessary.
Anunoby is eligible for an extension (similar to how Pascal Siakam was a year earlier), but said he isn’t sure if it will get done or not before the deadline later this month. Otherwise it will happen before next season. His agent has been in talks with the Raptors.
“I guess we’ll see when it gets closer,” Anunoby said.
He was surprised to see close friend Serge Ibaka leave via free agency, but pleased that Fred VanVleet committed long-term to Toronto.
“I’m glad playing with Fred, so I’m glad he’s back. Really happy for him,” Anunoby said.
“He played great last season. I think his career is just going up.”
Anunoby knows “the East will be even harder this year” with Brooklyn powering up and Russell Westbrook teaming with Bradley Beal in Washington, but, “we know we’re a good team, so we’re still confident in us.”
The Raptors will open the regular season against the New Orleans Pelicans for the second year in a row. This time there won’t be a ring ceremony, it won’t be in Toronto and young sensation Zion Williamson will be in the lineup. The game will be on Dec. 23 in Tampa Bay. The season kicks off for other teams a day earlier. Toronto heads to San Antonio to see old friend DeMar DeRozan on Boxing Day, is at new-look Philadelphia on the 29th and hosts R.J. Barrett and the New York Knicks on New Year’s Eve.