CLEVELAND — LeBron James spent four games up-close and personal with OG Anunoby and came away impressed with the Raptors rookie.
"I think he has a bright future. His future is now, actually," the Cavaliers star said after dispatching Toronto in a 128-93 blowout to cap a four game sweep in the Eastern Conference semifinal.
"You look at the rookie class from this year, it's probably the best since 2003," he added, breaking himself and the assembled reporters up.
James was the first player taken in the 2003 draft. The top five that year also included Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
Anunoby's draft credentials were more modest. The Indiana University product tore his anterior cruciate ligament in early 2017, dropping to 23rd in the draft perhaps as a result.
But he has shown he belongs. And the rookie from England was a bright spot in the Raptors' disappointing loss to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinal.
The 20-year-old was given the assignment of guarding James, with Pascal Siakam his understudy. James got plenty of points but the six-foot-eight Anunoby didn't make it easy.
The London-born forward stuck to James like glue, no matter where he was on the floor. The image of Anunoby in the series is a man crouched in front of James, with an arm extended, his eyes locked on the task at hand.
He also sank a key three-pointer — after a nifty pump fake — with eight seconds left in Game 3, to tie the game at 103-103. Known as a tenacious defender, he has shown signs of burgeoning offence.
"I think he's just getting more confident on what his abilities are," Raptors all-star guard Kyle Lowry said prior to Game 4. "He's super-athletic, super-strong. He can shoot the ball so I think those things are just going to continue to build."
Raptors coach Dwane Casey has shown great faith in Anunoby, who started 62 games this season.
Anunoby averaged 5.9 points and 20 minutes a game during the regular season. In 10 playoff games, he averaged 7.9 points and 23.8 minutes.
Casey liked what he saw from Anunoby in the Cleveland series. In addition to his defence, he praised him for correctly reading the play on the floor like a veteran beyond his years as well
"There's nobody that's going to stop James one-on-one but I think he's making him work for every inch of the court and that's what you've got to do," Casey said after Game 3.
"His confidence level, his maturity, his composure is huge for a rookie," he added.
Casey called Anunoby's offensive showing in the playoffs "a surprise and a good surprise."
"Believe me, it's going to play huge dividends down the road," he added.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press