RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Kawhi LeonardPosted by rtmsf on May 30th, 2011
Over the course of the next month until the NBA Draft on June 23, RTC will be rolling out comprehensive profiles of the 35 collegians we feel have the best chance to hear their names called by David Stern in the first round that night. There won’t be any particular order to the list, but you can scroll back through all the finished profiles by clicking here.
Player Name: Kawhi Leonard
School: San Diego State
Height/Weight: 6’6, 227 lbs.
NBA Position: Combo Forward
Projected Draft Range: Mid- to Late Lottery
Overview: In his two seasons under Steve Fisher at San Diego State, Leonard took the Mountain West by storm. He won the MWC Tournament MVP as a freshman after grabbing 21 rebounds in the championship game, then backed that up by notching a second-team All-American spot as a sophomore. Leonard didn’t really bloom until his senior year of high school, and even then was still just the 56th-best prospect in the nation (according to ESPNU), but he averaged over ten rebounds per game in his time on the Mesa and developed into a versatile full-court threat, capable of pulling down a monster rebound over a seven-footer on the defensive end, turning and pushing the ball upcourt and either finishing at the rim, pulling up for a midrange jumper or finding a teammate on the break. Despite measuring out at an underwhelming 6’6, Leonard is plenty long enough to play the power forward in the NBA, with a 7’3 wingspan and a 8’10 standing reach. However, Leonard’s terrific ballhandling skills, ever-improving jumper and ability to defend a wide range of offensive players means he is just as capable of playing the three at the next level. In fact, at SDSU, Leonard was most often seen working out with the guards rather than the big men. Leonard’s athletic testing at the NBA Combine returned some very average numbers (just a 32.5-inch vertical leap and just three reps at 185 pounds), but Leonard’s frame can definitely get stronger and he’s done just fine so far without jaw-dropping leaping ability.
Will Translate to the NBA: Leonard’s versatility gives him any number of ways to help out his future team. A tenacious defender, capable of guarding the two, three or four spot, he could develop into a lockdown caliber player. And his rebounding isn’t going anywhere, as he’ll be at least the equal of most fours in the league on the glass, while immediately putting his name in the hat for best rebounding small forward on the planet. Throw in the fact that Leonard is a tireless worker both on and off the floor and he’s got a very bright future.
Needs Work: Leonard’s jumper has never risen above the level of suspect. While he is an efficient scorer in the paint, the farther away from the hoop he gets, the more average he is. As a freshman, he made just 16 three-pointers at a 20% clip, and while he did improve to 29% from three as a sophomore (making 25 of his 86 attempts), he’s a long way from having NBA three-point range. However, he has been putting in long hours in the gym both this offseason and last in an effort to improve that part of his game, and all indications are improvement is on the way.
Comparison Players: There aren’t a lot of guys to compare Leonard to. We’ve heard names like Gerald Wallace and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and there’s a little of both of them in Leonard. Mbah a Moute has a similarly freaky wingspan and an aptitude for hitting the glass with zeal, and Wallace was a late-bloomer who added new facets to his game in the early years of his career. If Leonard can develop his three-point shot to Wallace’s level (good, nowhere near great), there’s no reason he can’t be at least a 15/8 guy like him.
Best Case Scenario: The fact is, no matter how much Leonard works on his jumper, he’s never going to shoot the rock like Steve Kerr. But if he can just get to the point where his opponents have to at least think about him shooting the perimeter jumper, the rest of Leonard’s game is quite complete. He’s going to rebound and defend at an elite level in the NBA, and if he adds a decent outside threat, Leonard could make an all-star game or two in his career.
2014 Projection: After spending his first couple years getting the type of minutes that Mbah a Moute got in his first few years (25 minutes a night), Leonard’s offensive game has come around, he’s settled into his role as a starter at the three but also gets minutes at power forward when his team goes small. While he’s not pulling down rebounds with the same regularity that he did in college, he’s still grabbing about eight a night, and he’s adding ten or so points a game, a number that is trending upward.
Best NBA Fit: Golden State was the worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA in 2010-11, grabbing less than 70% of their opponent’s missed shots. Grabbing Leonard with the 11th pick (provided he is still around) would immediately improve that situation. And, with scorers like Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry manning the backcourt – not exactly the most fearsome pair of defensive guards – the Warriors would improve their team defense and their rebounding in one fell swoop. But, teams like Washington (#6 pick), Detroit (#8) and Milwaukee (#10) could be interested as well, so the Warriors may need to trade up to get Leonard.
Scout’s Take (Chris Denker from Netscouts Basketball): “crazy long… needs to work on his offensive game… not really much of a low post threat; there’s nothing refined about it… can really defend, including quicker players.”