Toronto Raptors: Three things OG Anunoby can learn from Kawhi Leonard

PHILADELPHIA,PA - JANUARY 15 : Rookie OG Anunoby /

New teammates OG Anunoby and Kawhi Leonard are remarkably similar on and off the court— versatile defenders, gym-rats and stoic by nature. Who better to teach the Raptors rookie sensation the path from role player to NBA superstardom?

Here’s a crazy idea: OG Anunoby is the second coming of Kawhi Leonard. At least that’s what Toronto Raptors executives want to believe and it’s easy to see why.

Their origin stories are strikingly similar. On the court, Leonard and Anunoby are both long and athletic players with great defensive instincts, capable of guarding multiple positions. Many teams passed on them in the NBA Draft because of their offensive limitations. However, from humble beginnings, each player proved themselves with their defensive versatility (and surprising offensive contributions) to play significant minutes as rookies on a contending team. During the playoffs, they showed great poise, elevating their game to new heights.

Personality-wise, they’re like two peas in a pod. Leonard shies away from media attention, rarely shows emotion and is practically mute (to a fault). While Anunoby shows a bit more flair (he wears tight short shorts), he too keeps his sentences short and emotional flourishes to a minimum.

All of this isn’t a coincidence. Anunoby personally modelled his game (and perhaps his personality) after Kawhi Leonard.

Now that they’ll share the court together, the rookie sensation has a great opportunity. Here are three things that Anunoby can learn from the silent superstar to take his game to the next level.

Polishing his shooting stroke

Let’s start with the obvious. OG Anunoby needs to improve his jump shot to become an all-around threat in the NBA. In his rookie season, he shot 47 percent from the field and 37 percent from three but on limited attempts. In January, he hit the proverbial rookie wall, when he averaged his lowest points per game and three-point percentage, before recovering to finish off the season. Anunoby has decent form on his shot but it appears a bit rigid and inconsistent.

Enter Leonard. Coming into the NBA during the 2011-12 season, his shooting mechanics were suspect. In his two college seasons at San Diego State, he made 41 3-pointers on 164 attempts (25 percent). There was no fluidity, with the ball resting over or behind his head when shooting and his body unbalanced.

The solution? Chip Engelland, a Spurs’ assistant coach and shooting guru helped smooth out and simplify The Klaw’s shooting motion. Perhaps Leonard can share some of these tips with his newest teammate.

Making snap decisions

Last season, Anunoby’s role on offense was fairly limited. Spot up in the corner for threes, run in transition, grab offensive rebounds and occasionally drive to the basket. Part of this was by design. While Raptors ran a more egalitarian offense than years past, Lowry and DeRozan tended to dominate possessions, especially in the clutch. They handled the ball, made key decisions and created opportunities when plays broke down.

However, the main reason was that Anunoby wasn’t ready to accept that sort of responsibility. His ball handling and playmaking skills are still subpar and he needs to learn to read the situation on the floor and react appropriately. To his credit, Anunoby has shown flashes of improvement during the Summer League and he’ll get plenty of opportunities this coming season.

If he wants to accelerate the process, he can look at Leonard’s evolution into a playmaking forward. Under the tutelage of Greg Popovich, Leonard added an arsenal of moves, tightened his handle, increased his assist rate, decreased his turnovers while improving his scoring out of the pick and roll. With repetition and encouragement, Kawhi honed his decision-making abilities and now regularly finds the most efficient shot for himself and others. The key is that he never seems to force things, a valuable lesson for Anunoby.

Nightmare on defense

With the NBA shifting to small ball, players like Leonard and Anunoby are invaluable on defense. They fit the profile of a versatile player who can do pretty much everything.

Amongst his peers, Kawhi Leonard is the gold standard. As Grant Hughes remarked a few years ago, “Leonard may be the best on-ball defender in the league against point guards, shooting guards and small forwards, but he’s also adept at shutting down many power forwards. As players at that position increasingly resemble oversized wings, they’ll play right into Leonard’s massive, vice-like hands… It’s as if the NBA is molding itself into something Leonard is specifically designed to dominate.”

As Leonard’s doppelganger, Anunoby has the potential to be just as suffocating. With large hands, a 7’6” wingspan, chiselled frame and quick feet, Anunoby is built to be an elite defensive stopper. While defense is already his calling card, he still needs to improve his understanding of small details like angles and spacing to take the next step.

Work ethic over everything

Not everyone gets better. As any successful person knows, raw talent without work ethic equals no results.

Fortunately, OG Anunoby has both in spades. Just like Leonard, he is on track for a quiet, almost invisible ascendance to superstardom. And who knows, as a kindred spirit he might be the edge the Raptors need to convince Kawhi Leonard to stay in Toronto long term.