Kawhi Leonard cracks top 300 in #NBArank

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What does it say about Kawhi Leonard that the San Antonio Spurs were willing to give up George Hill, both a team and fan favorite, excellent complement to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in the guard rotation, and player who bought into the pounding the rock mantra more than anyone? Never mind that Hill was due a significant pay increase after next season, the Spurs don’t get rid of promising young players with corporate knowledge simply for financial reasons.

There were other parts involved in the trade that sent Hill home to Indiana and brought the Spurs their highest draft pick since 1997, but Hill and Leonard will be the two that are remembered. That is, unless Davis Bertans reaches a ceiling higher than Latvian Matt Bonner. You’d have to fight through dense fog to see San Antonio dealing Hill and all his über-Spur traits for someone who isn’t expected to contribute immediately. I’m unconvinced Gregg Popovich would allow RC Buford to pull the trigger, especially when Pop was in the room when the trade was consummated.

With that, maybe Kawhi Leonard landing at #296 in #NBArankisn’t a stretch. Leonard seemingly fills several holes in the Spurs rotation. He has the capacity to be a tenacious perimeter defender big enough to cover over-sized wings like LeBron James and Ron Artest. Leonard should also fill the role of power forward in small ball lineups, able to ensure there’s not a major drop off in rebounding with one of the Spurs’ bigs off the floor.Leonard also leapfrogged several fellow rookies in our rankings, including Bismack Biyombo, Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely and Tristan Thompson. All were picked ahead of Leonard, who went 15th. The question is, does this speak to Leonard’s current skill level or the trust observers have in the Spurs front office?
  • Tyler

    To answer your question, probably a little of both. Thompson, Vesely, Biyombo and Valanciunas are all upside guys in my mind – you might not get great results for 3-4 years as you wait for the skills to catch up with the athleticism. But if they ever do, each could be dynamite. And while Leonard has considerable upside, he strikes me as much more NBA ready than the aforementioned four.

    The fact that the Spurs traded Hill to move up to #15 also speaks to how highly the FO must value Leonard. And as highly regarded as our FO is, no doubt many took notice.

    I also agree with the idea that the FO wouldn’t have moved Hill if they weren’t getting someone that not only fills a big need, but someone who can contribute right away. Last year, the Spurs had a huge hole behind RJ, which they were able to mask throughout the regular season. That was exposed against Memphis. Considering that, I think Leonard get quality minutes from day one……….whenever that might be…. 

  • Tim in Surrey

    Tyler, I’m more or less with you, except I have a higher estimate of Kawhi Leonard’s room to improve. I think he has as much untapped potential as Vesely and Thompson, who are comparable athletically but don’t appear to have his hands, his quickness, or his court awareness. Valanciunas is already very advanced but, because he’s a true big man, is a different kettle of fish. In his case, his body still has to develop a lot and THEN he’ll have to learn how to use it. (When he does, look out. He’s going to be very, very good.) Leonard, Vesely, and Thompson are already mature physically, they just need to develop the skills and experience at the NBA level. I think Vesely in particular will be in for a rude awakening when he realizes that he’s not even the most gifted player on his own team anymore, much less his entire league. (On the Wizards he’s certainly behind John Wall and might be behind JaVale McGee and Andre Blatche as well!)

    Kawhi is only just learning how to use some of his impressive range of offensive tools. And while he’s a willing and talented defender, it will take him a few years to really master that, too. Luckily, however, rebounding (especially offensive rebounding), steals, and blocks transfer pretty well to the NBA and he was very strong in those areas in college. I was amazed to read that he’s the tenth leading rebounder in Mountain West Conference history, even though he left after his sophomore year. (Think about that for a second. Although it hasn’t been around long, with schools like UNLV, BYU, Utah, and New Mexico, the MWC has been a pretty good basketball conference. If you look at some of the guys who have put up similar numbers at those schools, they’ve translated pretty well to the NBA. That’s why the Wallace and Marion comparisons are pretty valid, in my opinion. Marion, for instance, is another MWC guy who had similar numbers.) 

    I think Kawhi will be good enough on defense and on the glass to be a starter right away–even if he may not start at first. But his upside is much, much higher. I expect that if everything goes relatively smoothly he’ll eventually be an all-star, and that has nothing to do with R.C. or Pop. That’s what I thought when I saw him play at San Diego State. When I looked at this year’s draft I thought he was one of the best picks you could make at any spot and that he had better potential as a pro than Derrick Williams. So, although I liked George Hill too, I was ecstatic about that trade, especially when you include Davis Bertans. (Oh and did anybody else notice how well Erazem Lorbek played in Lithuania yesterday?)

  • Tyler

    I think Leonard’s game is going to translate well to the NBA and especially the Spurs’ defensive scheme. At least on defense, everything is predicated on the system; every player has a designated spot depending on what the opposing offense does. The only Spur who sometimes plays outside that system is Manu (although TP started to this past year). He’s the one wild card an offense can’t always account for. And when his instincts are honed in, he can make an average defense seem elite for stretches. I think Leonard has the potential to be the same type of player defensively because of his instincts. In college, Leonard always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. I also think it’s on the defensive side that Kawhi will earn his minutes.

    Offensively, I’m not worried about Leonard. Because he’ll be the 4th or 5th option, he’ll have the freedom to roam and crash the glass. There’s really no pressure on Leonard to make plays – Manu, TP, and TD will set the table for him. Again, his instincts should serve him well.

  • http://48minutesofhell.com Andrew A. McNeill

    Great discussion fellas.

  • spursfanbayarea

    “These playoffs are not for Kawhi Leonard”- G. Pop 2012 playoffs

  • Tyler

    Did anyone see how well TP played today?

    If there’s no NBA season, I don’t know what I’m going to do…..

  • TheRed&Black

    I saw the highlights. TP was looking lights out. 

  • Qltfnish

    I think the Spurs had a hole IN FRONT OF RJ vs behind RJ.  I would not be surprised to see Leonard starting in front of RJ by seasons end.  Either that or Leonard will embarrass RJ into playing much better.  The best art of Leonard is he doesn’t need to UNLEARN a bunch of bad habits to be able to play within the Spurs system.  RJ still has his bad habits.

  • Bry

    When it is the highest draft pick that they’ve had since Duncan, and they gave up Hill to get him, I wouldn’t expect him to have typical rookie expectations. Pop doesn’t give rookies a lot of burn, but those rookies are normally very late first-round, 2nd round, or even undrafted guys. Even then, some rookies get serious playing. Obviously Duncan and Parker were primary players from day one, and even Gary Neal this past season got serious minutes, even in playoff crunch-time. So, I would expect Leonard – even though there likely will be no pre-season or training camp (which really hurt Splitter last season) – to be an immediate part of the rotation. As you guys said, he’ll probably take over the minutes as the “4” when Pop goes small and may get defensive substitutions late in games when Pop wants to protect a lead or match up better against a high-scoring wing-player. I don’t see him taking Jefferson’s starting spot, at least right away. If he can get a reliable outside shot and function within the offense he might be able to take over from Jefferson at some point during the season.

  • Anonymous

    It would be cool if you guys at 48moh could do breakdowns of some of the games involving our Spurs in the WCs. It’s just that I live in Ireland and there is absolutely no coverage here and I have to live off what the ‘Hangtime Blog’ has to say. From what I’ve heard & highlights I’ve seen, Parker looks on fire and France look good. Manu has stepped up when needed, Splitt has been really solid and Joseph & De Colo havnt got much burn with Joseph showing some sparks. Any writeups would be greatly appreciated. 

  • Powersj04

    Coming from one of the high school coaches at King, Kawhi’s got a great feel for shooting the ball. He was our primary 3-pt option, The struggles and inconsistency with his long ball have been from the intensive strength training as well as converting from a set shot to a jump shot.  It takes a long time to adjust when you’ve shot the ball the same way your entire life.  Its why some players never get a great outside shot, constantly changing things, always changing the strength levels in your game. Reggie Miller’s shot stayed so consistent because he never gained any more weight/strength throughout his career.  Kawhi has a great upside. He can potentially replace Richard Jefferson and give them a better defender and rebounder.  He will need some work to catch him offensively, but RJ hasn’t shown up in that category since arriving in SA.  Too bad this season is in hiatus would have been interesting to see if Splitter is developing and if Kawhi and DaJuan can compliment for a better inside presence this year since SA was lacking it last season.  Would be nice to land another big in the FA market just to solidify the rotation and be a contender with all the pieces around the Big 3. Kawhi is what Pop wished George Hill was….bigger all around.  They are built the same, it is just that Kawhi has another 5 inches and 30lbs on him.

  • http://48minutesofhell.com Andrew A. McNeill

    I’m going to try to have some stuff on the FIBA tournaments in a couple of days when some things slow down at my full-time job and I can actually watch the games. Soon.

  • Tyler

    I realize this is off topic, but the idea that weight lifting hurts your shot is a myth (coincidentally, it’s normally perpetuated by an older generation that never had any sort of weight program). What’s important is flexibility. You can get stronger, gain weight and mass, and improve your jumper at the same time as long as you do a good amount of stretching. Like anything else, it’s a balance. There’s a reason why just about every major pro sports team incorporates yoga along side a weight program.

    Without looking at the numbers, I’d say league 3point %’s haven’t wavered much while athletes have gotten bigger, faster, and stronger.   

  • TheRed&Black

    Ok, If the lockout ends tomorrow what can the Spurs do to shore up our front court? I have heard about Ryan Richards, Lorbek, Sanikidze. What are we realistically looking at? Can we afford an FA? Man I am bored…

  • http://48minutesofhell.com Andrew A. McNeill

    Part of it depends on what Antonio McDyess does. If he retires, that frees up a couple million dollars.

  • http://48minutesofhell.com Andrew A. McNeill

    3-point percentage has increased over the years, though it wasn’t added to the NBA until the early 80’s, I believe. Simmons has some interesting numbers in The Book of Basketball about how little 3’s were shot in those early years, until players and coaches realized how valuable that shot was.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks

  • Tim in Surrey

    It’s really difficult to find any empirical supporting data, and there just aren’t scads of old game films around for someone to comb through and provide new data. But a few of us old geezers (he said, hearing the footsteps of his 49th birthday approaching…) can at least provide anecdotal and virtually unanimous testimony that shooting ability has generally declined for a couple of decades. It’s true of passing ability for everyone except point guards as well (and particularly so for centers). Everything else has improved–pretty dramatically. And that’s where some of the contention comes in: Defense has probably improved more than anything. It’s hard to say that shooters were better when they were also more open. 

    My opinion–and feel free to adjust accordingly based upon how much rose tint you think my glasses have–is that shooting was better all around. But there is such a premium today on three-point shooting that players have specialized in it and are as good or better from long range than earlier eras. In other words, it’s the TWO-point shooting that is worse, particularly from the 10- to 15-foot range. A single Phoenix-Denver game from the late 70s or early 80s would’ve had about four or five guys–I’m thinking specifically of Walter Davis, Paul Westphal, Alex English, and Kiki Vandeweghe–who could shoot mid-range jumpers as well as any player currently in the league (especially Davis–man, that rainbow jumper of his was a thing of beauty).

    However, I tend to agree with Tyler that it’s not due to the roughly simultaneous development of weight training. That seems like a false correlation to me. I suspect it has more to do with the influence of players like Dr. J (who put a premium on athleticism and huge hands, which tend to interfere with your shooting mechanics a bit), players like Magic or other “point forwards” like Rodney McCray and Robert Reed who seemed to be good at everything but shooting, or players like Paul Pressey, Alvin Robertson, or Nate MacMillan, who were so good at defense that nobody cared whether they could shoot or not. Interestingly, if you blend all those guys together into a single player, you’d come out with someone rather like… Kawhi Leonard. He combines some of that athleticism, versatility, and defense, which is why I’m so high on him. Now if we can just mix in some of Ice’s mid-range shooting ability with the low-post game of Adrian Dantley and the tirelessness and durability of Alex English, we’ve got the perfect small forward.

  • Tyler

    Great point. I agree. Midrange shooting is not as good as it once was. I think that may be due to the way the game is played (much more emphasis on athleticism and getting to the basket) and (somewhat related) the way the game is officiated.

  • Tyler

    I doubt we’ll ever see any of them in a Spurs uni…

  • DorieStreet

    Good luck to Kawhi Leonard. From what I’ve read about this young man and seen on the court, he will be the type that will work hard during this league impasse and will be ready to produce for the Spurs once the next season starts.

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