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In Praise of OG Anunoby’s Stifling Defense

The Raptors’ do-everything wing is having a career year when it comes to stealing, stymieing, smothering, and infuriating opposing offenses

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

OG Anunoby thieves. This guy takes. He is here to wreck plans, to pocket-snatch and run off with the offense’s belongings. On the prowl for that genuine Horween. OG the bandit. OG the desperado. OG the pillaging dromaeosaurid. A real workaholic. Always on the job, guarding the other team’s best player, unleashing his quiet hell. Anunoby raids offenses. Constructs roving no-dribble zones. He inhales his assignments, his on-ball defense a monument to incarceration. He’s not the warden. He’s the walls.

Below are some of his defensive highlights. A few tips on how to enhance the viewing experience:

  1. Dress like a buccaneer, a swashbuckler, really any marauder. Woolen breeches, maybe a shirt stolen from a ship you just plundered. Potential accessories: knives, daggers, axes, halberts, spontoons, swords (not a cutlass, cutlasses are pretentious unless made of lava—get something rad like a machete), matchlock muskets, flintlock pistols, gold hoop earrings, tricornes, bandanas, skull rings, eye patches, a parrot. The parrot should be real. If the bird’s fake, so are you.
  2. Build a small flyboat or pinnace. Name it The Silent Killer. Paint it red.
  3. Sit inside. Recite thrice The Defender’s Creed: Gimme that. Gimme that. Gimme that.
  4. Smoke a cigarette. Do it the way Sam Shepard demanded Fool for Love be performed—relentlessly, without a break. Think about the people you love and those who have wronged them.
  5. A shot of Crown Royal and watch Werner Herzog listen to the Grizzly Man tape.
  6. Slap yourself in the face.
  7. Call yourself beautiful.
  8. Turn on the fog machine and tattoo cobras on your chest. Two at minimum. No more than seven. Use blood from cobras you’ve killed. If the blood’s fake, so are you.
  9. Another shot of Crown. Punch a shark. Paint it red.
  10. Turn on lasers (we recommend variance free for smaller setups).
  11. Think about those who have wronged you.
  12. Three more shots of Crown. Powerbomb a bull. Paint it red.
  13. Slap yourself in the face.
  14. Call yourself beautiful.
  15. Turn on “Ante Up.”
  16. Scream “Take minks off” and suplex a lion. Paint it red.
  17. Slap yourself in the face.
  18. Call yourself beautiful.
  19. Light your hair on fire.
  20. Press play.

Mike Judge once said, “Stealing, you’ll go far in life. Actually, there’s something funny about getting away with it.” Anunoby has taken these words to heart. At times he guards like he can see the future. Get sloppy in his vicinity and you’re cooked. He treats the unprepared with the utmost And where do you think you’re going?

The do-everything forward, as of Tuesday afternoon, leads the league in steals at 2.4 a game. Racking up takeaways doesn’t automatically make someone a good defender—thoughtless gambling can kill a defense—but Anunoby’s not just about the steals, not just solid on ball. He’s ravenous off it, keeps hunting for possession. Anunoby is brutal and multidimensional. Has been for years. His versatility is the Raptors’ luxury. Makes offenses miserable whether he’s the primary defender or in help. Can be the tip of the spear or nix shots at the rim. Can hang with guards on the perimeter or bang with bigs in the post. Anunoby hustles, hounds guys. He’ll chase shooters off picks and get in passing lanes. Sometimes he looks like a safety baiting a quarterback, basketball’s Polamalu. Sometimes he’ll just sort of appear, as if from the mist. Sometimes he’ll manhandle you and look bored out of his mind.

Anunoby’s a master of disruption and a certified nuisance. The footwork’s nuts, the hands are too. He’s long been a nightmare for opposing teams because he makes himself felt whether he’s involved offensively or not. Lately, he’s been very involved. Lately he’s been scorching. Injuries to Pascal Siakam, Precious Achiuwa, and Otto Porter Jr. bumped his usage up and he has responded in kind. In his last five games he’s averaged 20 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.2 assists on over 17 shots a game. He’s hitting 47% from the field, 85% from the free throw line, and putting people in the rim.

He’s smart, he’s long, he’s strong. He has upper-middle-class, prime-Dwight shoulders and his bird can sing. Gets in a stance and into his man’s skin. Corrals scorers into Anunoby’s Traveling Torture Dungeon, takes the thing they love most. OG Swole G surely this will get deleted. You’ll find him on the wing constructing caves of steel. You’ll find him palming space rocks out of the mesosphere. You’ll find him haunting offenses—an undead, super nice shadow who will say something when he feels like it.

On Halloween he had a steal against De’Andre Hunter that made Alvin Williams say, “Look at him get busy!” and Matt Devlin growl, “The power game.” He finished the evening with six steals and two blocks, stuffed Atlanta into his own personal boo box. Contents included various scorpions, cacti, five bone mamas, and two Skeletrexes. Anunoby terrorized the Hawks all game. They received no mercy, no comfort, no hope. He bodied them, tricked them, and took their treats.

That’s good bone crushin’.

Anunoby’s surprised by exactly none of this. He knows how good he is.

“I mean defensively, I’ve always wanted to be Defensive Player of the Year. I’ve always thought I was the best defender in the league. I’ve thought [that] for the last, I don’t know how many years.”

He says this matter of factly, as if everyone should know it already.