Home » OG Anunoby provides reminder of how important his health is

OG Anunoby provides reminder of how important his health is

by Marko Florentino
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The schedule set up the contrast.

On Sunday, without OG Anunoby, the Knicks were a pitiful offensive unit scoring their fewest points in six years, crumbling to the shorthanded Sixers. Two nights later, with OG Anunoby in the lineup, they demolished the Sixers, throwing it back to their dominance of January.

Same arena, same opponent. Forty-eight hours apart. Totally different story.

At the risk of invading Captain Obvious’s turf, the Knicks are better with Anunoby. He fit the pieces together upon arrival from Toronto, watched them jar a little loose for over a month while recovering from elbow surgery, then glued them back in Tuesday’s 106-79 breeze.

Super Glue OG.

The starters, with Anunoby at power forward, dominated their minutes. Remember those insane plus-minus stats right after Anunoby was traded? They were back Tuesday.

The Knicks outscored Philadelphia by 28 points in Anunoby’s 29 minutes, which included his trademark versatility, floor spacing and defensive power. Everybody on the floor benefitted. Josh Hart, still the starting small forward (Anunoby replaced Precious Achiuwa), recorded another triple-double in 39 minutes. Hart, doing his best impression of Jimmy Butler lately, didn’t have to concede his playing time or opportunities. Donte DiVincenzo, struggling with his shot for the previous few games, knocked down 4 of his 9 treys. Jalen Brunson wasn’t burdened with carrying the offense, and the Knicks abandoned iso-ball while finishing with 32 assists — eight above their season average.

Tom Thibodeau felt so relaxed he removed all his starters with six minutes left. That’s less common than a lunar eclipse.

Anunoby? Beyond lowering Thibodeau’s fourth-quarter blood pressure, he was excellent. His positive moments were plenty Tuesday, but the one that stood out was a dribble spin around Philadelphia’s Paul Reed to set up a two-handed dunk in the half-court. No evidence of hindrance from Anunoby’s surgically repaired elbow.

None at all.

OG Anunoby soars in for a dunk against the 76ers on Tuesday night. AP

“He can fit with anybody,” Thibodeau said. “He can play off people. He can shoot. He’s good off dribble handoffs, he’s good moving without the ball, cutting, slashing, he’s very good in transition. He can play with your starters, he can play with your bench, he can play the 3, he can play the 4, you can put him at the 2. He guards everybody. Very unique.”

It was all very encouraging because there’s much at stake.

On Leon Rose’s list of significant executive moves, the Anunoby acquisition sits No. 2.

It’s wedged between No. 1 signing Brunson — a move that required cap-space maneuvering on the 2022 draft night — and No. 2 signing Thibodeau in 2020.

OG Anunoby drives to the basket against the 76ers on Tuesday night. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

We can say confidently that Brunson and Thibodeau worked out quite well, even exquisitely, no matter what happens in the next few months. They could leave to play running back for the Philadelphia Eagles and still get a video tribute at MSG, unless both somehow ticked off somebody important on the way out.

That obviously can’t be said yet about Anunoby. It’s been less than three months since the trade. But it’s safe to conclude, as reiterated Tuesday, that Rose and the Knicks need a healthy Anunoby for any hope in the playoffs.

Thus far, we’ve seen both ends of the Anunoby spectrum. There’s the Swiss Army knife side that Thibodeau described — the extreme positive with Anunoby’s defense and impact on winning. The Knicks are now 13-2 with Anunoby, who launches the team’s ceiling to another level.

But there’s also the injury-prone Anunoby, the part that also followed his career and will continue until he proves more durable.

Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

One moment Anunoby was defending 1 thru 5 for the Knicks in January — the franchise’s winningest month since the 1990s — and the next he had a sore elbow that went under the knife. Nick Nurse, his former coach in Toronto, knows both sides. With the Raptors in the last four seasons, Anunoby never hit 70 games. He failed twice to get to 50 and sat the entire 2019 playoff run to the title.

Now Anunoby’s healthy again, the loose bone fragments removed from his elbow, and Nurse didn’t seem so eager to game-plan against him.

“He’s one of the best defenders that I coached,” said Nurse, now the Sixers’ coach. “He guards every position. From [Nikola] Jokic one night to Bradley Beal the next to Kawhi [Leonard]. A really good defender.”

That was never in question. If anything, Anunoby’s defending and shooting have been better than advertised when available for the Knicks. He’s a great fit on a fully loaded Knicks squad, a great fit for any team, really, because he doesn’t require the ball, defends intensely and complements offensive-minded stars.

But the question is health. It’s something the Knicks need Anunoby to conquer. When whole, the Knicks are a threat. One important piece returned and rightfully received a standing ovation by the end of the night.

Another, Julius Randle, is getting closer.

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