Indiana's OG Anunoby had breakout player written all over him entering the year. He's now one of the tougher cases to evaluate for the 2017 NBA draft following a knee injury suffered Wednesday night at Penn State.
He's out for the year, according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski. And if this is it for his college career and Anunoby declares for the draft, he'll do so after just 16 games played as a sophomore and averaging 4.9 points as a freshman.
Even if he'd gone into the draft healthy, taking him in this year's lottery would mean betting on significant fundamental improvement. From his handle and jumper to his feel for the game, Anunoby still lacks polish, something he won't be able to add while sitting out.
"He's a teaser and tricky," an NBA executive told Bleacher Report. "He'd have to go to a team who can be patient, and being in the lottery, patience is tough these days.
"OG is a question mark for me, as team needs would be a difference-maker."
With all the bounce, length and quickness a scout can ask for, Anunoby's tools and athleticism will always fuel enticing upside. Reaching it, though, is going to call for massive ball-skill improvement.
"He's a freak, but he's not a basketball player yet," one NBA scout said.
Injury aside, how early in the draft should a team be willing to gamble on a non-basketball player, hoping he becomes one over the next few years? The responses vary based on personal belief.
I've heard everything from the Nos. 10-20 and 20-25 range to "He's not the answer for us today."
NBA evaluators are constantly weighing risk versus reward as much as they're judging talent. Though it's Anunoby's ceiling that draws the most attention, a high floor may be his strongest selling point, assuming a return to full strength is expected.
"For a three-and-D guy, I feel pretty comfortable drafting him and that he'll work out to some degree," the scout told B/R.
Anunoby covers ground and airspace with long arms, foot speed and springy legs. They all lead to steals and blocks but also unique, valued versatility.
"I see him as a guy who can instantly guard four positions," the scout said. "He can defend the small-ball 4. If you have a switching defense, he should be able to guard 1-4."
Anunoby has also created some optimism regarding his potential to make uncontested jumpers, having sunk 27 of 74 career threes so far with a relatively smooth delivery. He's no sniper, but you at least get the impression he'll eventually threaten to hit open shots.
And with a perception that defense and enough shot-making can keep a player afloat in today's NBA, Anunoby may have a life jacket.
The fact he was converting 70.1 percent of his two-pointers is somewhat reassuring for skeptics who doubt his outside shooting. His first step and leaping ability are translatable weapons for opportunistically scoring easy buckets off line drives and finishes (as a fourth or fifth option).
Anunoby's worst-case projection appears to still show a serviceable reserve. From there, scouts have to determine the likelihood of his game taking off upon his arrival to the pros.
"Your hope is, with continued player development, and with his reputation as being a good worker, he's a guy that has the capability of becoming a better player than just a Josh Huestis or Andre Roberson," the scout said.
"Offensively, you're going to really need to have some patience with him, and you're gonna need to define his role simply. The thing about him that's comforting: He seems to be a humble guy willing to learn, willing to work, willing to play any role you give him. He doesn't have any preconceived notion of what kind of offensive player he is or needs to be."
Anunoby was used much less (20.3 percent usage, per Sports-Reference.com) and wasn't nearly as productive (11.1 points per game) as the other top wings in the projected class.
|Potential First-Round Forwards|
|Justin Jackson, UNC||Junior||18.0||24.4|
|Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson||Senior||17.8||26.5|
|Dwayne Bacon, Florida State||Junior||17.4||29.3|
|Jayson Tatum, Duke||Freshman||16.8||29.0|
|Josh Jackson, Kansas||Freshman||15.1||27.7|
|Miles Bridges, Michigan State||Freshman||15.3||28.0|
|Jonathan Isaac, Florida State||Freshman||13.1||22.2|
|OG Anunoby, Indiana||Sophomore||11.1||20.3|
His dribble is stiff. The ability to create his own shot isn't there. More than half (55.9 percent, per Hoop-Math.com) of his field goals made are assisted. He's shown no signs of a mid-range game, pull-up or floater, having hit three two-point jumpers all season. He's also totaled 26 turnovers to 23 assists.
The NBA executive questioned his basketball IQ and motor.
For all the hype he's received, Anunoby remained limited. But so did a handful of today's top small forwards before turning 20 years old.
The polarizing sophomore possesses unteachable strengths and correctable weaknesses. Instead of just guessing whether he'll get better, evaluators must essentially set odds for him improving (and to what degree) versus plateauing, then use them to decide when and where he's worth taking.
This latest injury won't help his perceived chances of raising his skill level any time soon.
Depending on his goals and patience, Anunoby will have to decide whether he wants to go high in the draft— which would likely require another year at Indiana to further prove himself—or if he wants to test his luck in 2017 and hope a team believes in his recovery and role-player floor.
Either way, all signs are pointing away from Anunoby ever meeting the preseason hype.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Stats up to date as of January 20.