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OG Anunoby could be the steal of the draft

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There’s still some uncertainty surrounding his ACL recovery, but Anunoby has the potential to be a key defender.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

From unheralded three-star high school recruit to potential lottery pick? It’s uncommon for a basketball player with arms the length of the continental United States to go unnoticed entering college. But that’s what happened with Indiana sophomore Ogugua “OG” Anunoby.

Story goes that the first time former Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean saw Anunoby was at an AAU event, and Anunoby wasn’t even listed in the program. Fast forward to today and there’s still some mystery surrounding Anunoby due to an ACL tear that forced surgery and sidelined him for the rest of his sophomore season. But with his physical tools, NBA teams are lining up to find out more—and the Mavericks should, too.

The basics

In his second season at Indiana, Anunoby averaged 11.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists in 25.1 minutes per game with a PER of 24.1. However, he only played 16 games due to injury.

Ultimate upside

Larry Johnson

Safe comparison

Al-Farouq Aminu

Strengths

Typically, you smirk at a player who says he can guard all five positions. You may get nervously excited if scouts agree. But then you start watching game tape...and you believe it. And suddenly you’re dreaming of a future in which OG Anunoby seamlessly switches screen after screen, containing Steph Curry on the perimeter, then disrupting Kevin Durant on the wing, then bodying Draymond Green on the block. All in one possession.

Ok, so maybe not yet.

But that’s the ceiling Anunoby could reach with his size, length and athleticism. Last week at the draft combine Anunoby measured 6’8” and 230 pounds with a terrifying wingspan over 7’2”—enough to make you believe that he was MJ’s dunking double in Space Jam. Those staggering dimensions combined with his natural defensive instinct are what has NBA teams so intrigued.

Anunoby has shown flashes of the ability to guard the entire floor. For his muscular frame, he maintains a lot of lateral quickness and solid footwork. With his reach on close outs and activity in passing lanes, Anunoby averaged just over two steals and two blocks per 40 minutes. And he makes up for his height on the block and on box outs with the strength of his core and lower body.

Offensively, OG plays within himself, and his 62 percent True Shooting percentage is a testament to his ability. Anunoby is an instant transition threat, and with a straight line to the basket, he has above-the-rim highlight potential. It’s the development of his three-point shooting that will be key going forward. He only attempted 74 threes in college, but shot a modestly solid 36.5 percent from deep.

Anunoby’s value lies on the other end of the floor, but if he can stretch his offense, he could be the eventual steal of this draft.

Weaknesses

It’s difficult to ignore the ACL-sized elephant in the room. Injured in January, Anunoby had surgery and has been rehabbing ever since. NBA doctors will have to evaluate his progress, and GMs will have to decide how patient they can be. ACL recovery has improved, but for players like Anunoby who relied on their athleticism and explosiveness, returning to prior form isn’t always guaranteed.

General health questions aside, he should focus on offensive improvement. Weak ball-handling and passing skills means he can’t create for himself or others, so Anunoby is best served spotting up on the wing or in the post. If he’s cut off on a drive, Anunoby doesn’t do well changing direction or kicking it out. Improving his off-hand dribbling for more escapability and less predictability is key.

Ultimately, it might be his length that limits his shooting contributions. Anunoby is a set shooter. He has difficulty pulling up off the dribble or stepping into rhythm shots. And his mechanics are somewhat rigid with a slow release. He has made considerable progress in this area though, so with better coaching and more time on the floor, there’s reason for optimism.

Fit with the Mavericks

The Mavericks should select a player who has guaranteed value from day one. Unfortunately, Anunoby’s contributions would have to wait. But as Shams Charania at The Vertical reported at the start of the weekend, there is a lot of positivity coming from Anunoby’s rehab program.

Depending on the Mavericks’ on-court evaluation, he might be a slight value reach at the ninth pick. But his long-term fit if and when he’s healthy is obvious. Anunoby is a glue guy, the kind of player who becomes a fan favorite. Will he turn into a featured offensive contributor? Probably not. But he will fill the entire stat sheet.

The Mavs are rarely known for their defense, but they are (very) slowly adding nice defensive pieces: Nerlens Noel, Wes Matthews, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Harrison Barnes. With the addition of Anunoby, the defensive versatility of this Mavericks squad would be undeniably fun to watch. And it’s easy to imagine Carlisle finding him an offensive niche similar to Al-Farouq Aminu.

Much has been made of the top prospects in this class. But Cuban and Nelson should take a long look at Anunoby if they aren’t in love with what remains on draft night. This should be a patient rebuild that takes time. And with head athletic trainer Casey Smith, Anunoby will be in the hands of the best training staff in the league. If he can return to form over the next year plus, the Mavericks will have the kind of player every championship team needs.