OG Anunoby had nothing close to the season last year that Raptors fans had hoped for, especially after adding Kawhi Leonard: the man who optimists hoped OG might become the next of.
A rookie OG Anunoby was scarily identical to rookie Kawhi Leonard – both on, and off the court. They both have a quiet demeanour, despite their lunchbucket and hard hat mindset when it comes to helping their team win in any way possible. Both were overlooked in their respective drafts, with Kawhi having slipped to the 15th pick in 2011, and OG to the 23rd pick in 2017. Both came into the league as physically dominant specimen, who were seen as high-level, versatile defenders with a limited offensive game. Both were drafted to (traded to, in the case of Kawhi) top-tier organizations who were perennial playoff contenders, so they had to learn to play in a small offensive role, and had little leniency or time to get their feet wet.
The comparisons go on, and on; from personality, to development as a player, to rookie stats, so needless to say that when Masai Ujiri acquired Kawhi from San Antonio last summer, die-hard Raptors fans were looking at the development aspect for OG Anunoby, in addition to getting excited over our spiked championship odds.
Those hopes were quickly derailed after Anunoby’s father passed away prior to training camp, and he was understandably forced to take some time away from the team. From his pre-season debut, he was not on the same page as his new teammates, and injuries throughout the year prevented him from catching up.
Despite constantly being in and out of the lineup, he still showed flashes of his potential. In a regular season game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on December 21st, 2018, he torched anyone who tried to match up with him – from Cedi Osman, to Larry Nance. OG showed off a wide array of moves in his arsenal, as he knocked down a catch-and-shoot three, then spun off a defenders hip in the post to throw down a powerful dunk, all in the span of a few possessions.
Games like this would remind NBA fans of his head-to-head duel with LeBron James in Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Playoffs, where the U.K. native hit a game-tying three-pointer with 8.0 seconds remaining, before the king infamously hit his corner fadeaway floater, sending the dinosaurs into an insurmountable series deficit, and sparking the “LeBronto” fad.
In a time like this when we have all forgotten the value of OG Anunoby, remember that just 14 months ago, he was arguably our best player in a game in which we nearly took down the eventual finalists. He was just 20 years old, at the time.
The OG Anunoby we have right now is the exact same man you watched steal his own rebound from Kevin Love, after knocking down LeBron James in that video, then finishing for two points, as his All-Star teammates stood and watched. The only reason he’s not on the same level as Pascal Siakam today is because his injuries, and our depth at the forward positions last year deprived him of any real opportunity. Keep in mind that during the Kawhi Leonard negotiations with San Antonio last summer, OG was one of the only two “untouchable” players on our roster, along with Pascal Siakam. Masai believed in Siakam, and look at how that turned out. If Masai believes in OG, who is still 3 years younger than Spicy P, then you should too.
If you’re still not convinced that OG Anunoby holds the key to the Raptors’ future success, look at the situation from this perspective: what if he was in the 2019 NBA Draft, and was coming to Toronto as a rookie? At still just 21 years old, with his 22nd birthday in 3 days, he’s mere months older than this year’s fourth overall pick; DeAndre Hunter, and my guess is that OG might’ve been drafted in a similar spot.
Though Kawhi was unable to take OG under his wing this year, he undoubtedly left an impression on the youngster on what it means to be the best. After witnessing what it takes to be a champion from the sideline, OG understands the hard work and dedication that it takes to reach the summit. By no means should Anunoby be expected to fill the void that Kawhi left us with, but if he can emulate a fraction of the Klaw’s greatness, we’ll be in for a treat.