I know what you’re thinking. We’ve been given the opportunity to watch OG develop these last three years with the Raptors, and while being a very solid player, he’s given no indication he’s going to be a superstar. But neither did Kawhi in his first three years. It might be unlikely that OG could blossom into one of the best players in the NBA, but it’s definitely not an impossibility. Let’s consider this past season in the bubble and the playoffs. OG proved himself to be a versatile and elite defender, playing all-NBA caliber defense on Kemba Walker (6’0) and Jayson Tatum (6’8), the Celtics clear-cut two best players in that series. He also showed he could be a lethally efficient shooter, hitting 41.5% from three, and calm in the clutch (I’m sure we won’t soon forget the epic game three buzzer beater against the Celtics). So, a versatile defender who can guard 1-5 at an elite level, a highly efficient scorer on any volume of shots, and a calm and collected player with cold blood in the clutch, sound like anybody you know? Let’s go in depth into OG and Kawhi’s first three years at the NBA, and how OG compares to a top 5 player in the NBA.
Let’s start with the most notable comparisons, the physical similarities between the two players. OG stands at 6’7, 232 pounds, Kawhi, similarly, stands at 6’7, 225 pounds. But that’s not where the physical similarities end. At the NBA draft combine, OG measured at a 8’11.5 standing reach with a 7’2.25 wingspan. Kawhi measured at a 8’10 standing reach with a 7’3 wingspan. As it comes to things like speed and vertical, there are no exact measurements (OG didn’t participate in that part of the combine), but 2k roster creators who rate players for a living have OG with a slightly higher vertical, 85-79, and just slightly lower speed, 85-81. Both players playing small forward, it’s clear that OG has the physical tools to compete with the best players in the NBA, but that’s just the start.
The Pre-Draft Comparison
Neither player played for a basketball powerhouse (OG at Indiana and Kawhi at San Diego State), and both came out after their sophomore years. Looking at their scouting reports on NBAdraft.net, we see more remarkable similarities between the two players. Both players were praised for their excellent wingspan and their agility, being able to cover space quickly. We know now that Kawhi is one of the top defenders in the league, and both were praised for their defense coming out of college, but OG was the better defender. Says OG’s scouting report “defensive potential is his calling card . . . can guard multiple positions on the court” and “already shows the signs of being a high-level defender”. While Kawhi was noticed for his potential on the defensive end, OG was being noticed for his already high-level defense. Both were also commended for their rebounding ability because of their length and explosiveness. But even in this category OG seems to outperform Kawhi. Although Kawhi was praised for his “huge hands, length, energy and great timing” allowing him to get rebounds he had no business getting, OG was described solely as a “monster on the offensive boards”. Moving to their weaknesses, each player had similar concerns for their ability to perform at the next level. Each was described as a weak ball handler, especially with their off-hand (conveniently, both were right-handed). Both players had the issue of an inability to create their own shot, needing somebody else to create space for them. Kawhi was criticized especially for his flat and inconsistent shot with bad mechanics, and it was also said about OG that his “shot mechanics need some fine tuning” and he “shoots with minimal arc and not much rotation”. Both players coming into the draft were seen as solid defenders and good shooters when in rhythm, but were not yet able to create their own shot and were not consistent enough to be great perimeter shooters. Both players slipped beyond the lottery in the draft, Kawhi going 15th in 2011 and OG going 23rd in 2017 (largely because Anunoby was recovering from an ACL tear), and both went to organizations that were already winning and where they would be given time to develop their game.
The First Three Years
Neither player came in as a high-volume shooter, but both came in as starters on teams with high expectations. Both the Raptors and the Spurs had made the playoffs the previous year, and had recently been to the conference finals. Kawhi joined a team with three hall-of-fame players, with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan taking the majority of the shots. OG joined a team with all-stars (and borderline hall-of-famers) Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan as the high usage players. Both players were slotted into the starting lineup for the majority of their games in their rookie year, with Kawhi playing 24 minutes per game and Anunoby playing just 20. Per 36 minutes in their rookie years, Kawhi averaged 11.9 points and 7.7 rebounds, shooting 49.3% from the field and 37.6% from three on 9.5 field goal attempts per game. OG averaged 10.6 points, and only 4.5 rebounds, shooting 47.1% from the field and 37.1% from three on 8.4 field goal attempts per game. Both players faced LeBron James in the playoffs within their first three years, and each was tasked with being his primary defender, Kawhi winning a finals MVP mostly because of his defensive performance against James. Of course OG’s growth was stilted by the trade for Kawhi in the 2018-19 season, where he only started 6 of his 67 games while coming off the bench behind Kawhi. In OG’s third year he averaged 10.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals, shooting 50.5% from the field and 39% from three. In Kawhi’s third year he averaged 12.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals, shooting 52.2% from the field and 37.9% from three.
Surprise! There are more similarities here. Let’s start with their overall personalities. Both players are known for being quiet and going about their business, but also having a great work ethic. Both players have a good relationship with Ibaka (yes this is very important), all Raptors fans remember the scarf situation between OG and Serge and of course the post-championship celebration Serge had with Kawhi (what it do, baby?). But seriously these guys are both cold-blooded killers in the clutch, ruthlessly hitting daggers with no sympathy for the devastation of the opposing teams they leave in their paths. We all remember the two biggest shots in Raptors history, Kawhi’s buzzer-beating shot over Joel Embiid in game 7 of the Conference semi-finals, and OG’s dagger as time expired over Jaylen Brown in game 3 of the semi-finals this past year. Although known for his stoic nature, even Kawhi had to celebrate when he hit the game-winner. OG had no such need, walking calmly away before being mobbed by teammates.
This can only mean one thing. OG is clearly more confident than Kawhi. As he himself once said “I don’t shoot to miss”.
What Does This Mean for OG?
While the Raptors were being outplayed for the majority of their series against the Celtics this year (sorry, it’s true), I still couldn’t help being excited by the growth of OG Anunoby. When Kemba or Jayson Tatum was heating up, Nick Nurse put OG on them to cool them back off, and he did an incredible job. We all watched as OG developed in front of our eyes, seeing him implement a Siakam-like spin move while becoming more confident in attacking off the dribble. I got to the point where I was hoping the ball would get away from Siakam and into the hands of OG, and hoping OG would always be guarding the opposing team’s best player down the stretch. I really do believe OG has the potential to be an all-star, if not a superstar, in this league. And Raptors fans don’t have to go far to find his comparison, he just won us our first championship. Let’s hope OG can do the same.