OG Anunoby's early Knicks impact goes beyond the box score, and in surprising ways

We’re four games into OG Anunoby’s Knicks tenure, and the early results have been better than hoped. The team is 4-0, comfortably beating the best team in the West and a perennial contender in the East, while sporting the best metrics in the game in that span.

Some may point to Anunoby’s raw averages -- 12 points and 5.3 rebounds -- in contrast to the positive narrative surrounding the Knicks following this trade. However, his impact is felt far beyond the box score, and in surprising ways.

Let’s dive in...

A key factor in doing this trade was to net the Knicks arguably the most valuable playoff-ready archetype in the game -- the big 3-and-D wing -- and it doesn’t hurt securing maybe the league’s best swingman defender in the process.

Immanuel Quickley was rightfully lauded as a talented stopper and off-ball pest, but couldn’t replicate some of these early Anunoby stretches simply due to size.

In his debut against Minnesota, Anunoby opened up the game on their lead man Anthony Edwards, held him to three made field goals and forced him into three turnovers. At other points, he was on the seven-foot Karl-Anthony Towns and held him to 2-for-5 shooting with a turnover.

During two plays in the first quarter, the Timberwolves ran a high pick-and-roll with center Rudy Gobert, in which he got solid separation on both, but Isaiah Hartenstein incredibly managed to recover for a block and stop on the finishes. Nearing the end of the quarter, they ran another one, this time with Hartenstein on the bench. Coming over from the weak side corner, Anunoby met Gobert at the rim to swat an easy lob away.

In his second game, Anunoby faced the Bulls and shut down their best player, DeMar DeRozan, who had 28 points on 10-for-13 shooting, but went just 1-for-3 with OG on him. That was overshadowed by Anunoby flipping the game in the fourth quarter, subbing in with eight minutes to play and his team up two only to eventually win by 16.

Anunoby immediately deflected a ball, leading to a steal and score, then after a Bulls miss made multiple hustle plays to keep the Knicks' possession alive, slamming the ball off a ripped offensive rebound. Chicago called timeout, their momentum flipped, and DeRozan would only score on two free throws for the remainder of the game.

OG’s defensive range extends all the way down to small guards. Tyrese Maxey averages an efficient 25.9 points a night, but with Anunoby on him last Friday shot 2-for-8 from the field in Philly’s worst loss of the season.

OG Anunoby
OG Anunoby / Wendell Cruz - USA TODAY Sports

In a feat that makes last season’s Josh Hart trade spark look pedestrian, Anunoby is a +85 in 138 minutes as a Knick -- a crazy figure. Since the deal, New York leads the league in defensive rating (103.1 points allowed per 100 possessions) and net rating, with a 17.7-point differential.

All of the above basically equates to a basketball fairytale, so there must be some downside. The instinct is to look to the offense, where Anunoby is short of his career averages and the Knicks are down two potent weapons blossoming in Toronto.

But the Knicks are 10th in offense since the deal, scoring 120.8 points per 100 possessions, compared to their 117.2-point output leading up to it. It turns out Anunoby can improve the offense without being fully involved yet.

Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle, New York’s two engines, have benefited from Anunoby’s superior spacing to his predecessor. Brunson is putting up 27.3 points and 9.3 assists, while Randle is averaging 30.3 points on 51 percent shooting since the trade.

Anunoby is also helping turn defense into offense, with his impact generating easy transition opportunities. The Knicks were ninth in fast break points per 100 possessions prior to the trade with 14.9, but have jumped to second behind 20.3 points since.

Replacing two high-usage players with a low-usage one has the Knicks moving the ball much more freely. Most possessions may center around Randle or Brunson, but both have become accustomed to passing out of defensive attention, and New York’s surrounding players are running with their chances.

The Knicks were 29th in assist rate at 56.8 percent, but since the trade are 19th, with 62 percent of their buckets being assisted on.

You see how the addition of Anunoby is opening up the games for guys like Donte DiVincenzo -- who has scored four straight in double-digits -- and Quentin Grimes, who has hit two threes in each game since the deal.

It’s easy to pencil this trade as a complete win, but it’s far too early for a pen. Still, even without the counting stats, Anunoby’s impact is undeniable thus far, and he hasn’t even been implemented into the offense.

We already saw a slightly more aggressive Anunoby against Washington, with some set plays and bench units centered around him. If he starts contributing more to the offense, this Knicks team could really start rolling.