Anunoby Emerging as “Baby Kawhi”?


When the Toronto Raptors drafted OG Anunoby back in 2017, some fans gave him the nickname “Baby Kawhi.”

Measuring at 6-foot-7-inches with a 7-foot-2 inch wingspan, it’s not hard to see the comparison. (Kawhi Leonard is also 6-foot-7 with an inch-longer wingspan). Praised for his defense and athleticism by scouts coming out of college, Anunoby showed flashes of his potential during his rookie season.

To further develop his skillset, Anunoby needed a mentor. Someone who could guide him in the early stages in his career. Someone whose style of play he could absorb in practices and games, day in and day out. 

Enter: the aforementioned Leonard— the best one-year rental player in NBA history. He led the Raptors to their first-ever championship win and paved the way for Anunoby to flourish. 

A learning experience

In October 2019, OG Anunoby named Kawhi as one of his biggest defensive influences, along with Ron Artest, Scottie Pippen and Draymond Green.

“He’s focused,” Leonard told reporters of Anunoby in October 2018. “He wants to get better. He can do a lot of things on the floor – he can shoot threes, drive the basketball and he’s playing defense. He’s just gotta take his time and be patient and keep working on his game and good things will come.”

Those good things have certainly come. After a year as Kawhi’s understudy, OG emerged as one of the league’s most elite role players. He raised production in every major statistical category from last season, averaging double-digits for the first time in his career and recorded career-highs in points (32), assists (5), rebounds (12), steals (7), blocks (4), FG% (75%, 12-16) and 3pt% (71.4. 5-7). And in only his third season, Anunoby ranks top 20 in six defensive categories, including ninth in Defensive Win Shares (3.3) and 14th in Steals (88) on one of the top defenses in the league. 

A look ahead

Usually tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best player, Anunoby’s defense will be a key factor if the Raptors want to get off to a fast start during the NBA’s restart. In eight games, Anunoby will have to guard LeBron James, Jimmy Butler, Jaylen Brown/Jayson Tatum, Khris Middleton and Ben Simmons, among others. And that’s all before the playoffs actually start.

Thankfully, Anunoby isn’t too fazed by the playoffs, even after missing last season’s championship run due to an appendectomy. “I played in the playoffs my rookie year,” Anunoby said during a July 3 video conference. “I wasn’t able to be out there [last year], so yeah I wish I could’ve played but… I’ll use it as motivation.”

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About Sasha Podzorov

Sasha Podzorov is a journalism student at Stony Brook University where he broadcasts volleyball, soccer and lacrosse games. He is a huge basketball and soccer fan, and a Top Gear and Jeopardy enthusiast. Connect with him on Twitter @sasha_podzorov

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