Continuing their look at possible draft options for the Toronto Raptors, the HQ turn their attention to San Diego State product, Kawhi Leonard...
Looking at the latest update of NBADraft.net's mock draft, the Toronto Raptors are slated to be picking a new name.
Not Kemba Walker.
Not Jonas Valanciunas.
Not Enes Kanter.
And no, not Brandon Knight.
The name is none other than San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard, one of this draft's highest risers on many teams' draft boards. Leonard was barely a name thrown around in draft talk a year ago, and now it would be stunning if he wasn't chosen in the top 10 of this upcoming draft.
How did this happen?
Well averaging a shade under 16 points and 11 rebounds in your final college season doesn't hurt in terms of getting attention.
Nor does helping to carry your squad into the Sweet 16, losing to the eventual NCAA Champs by only seven points.
Above both however, it's Leonard's interesting skill-set and honestly, his physical attributes, that have really distinguished him. At 6-7 with a ridiculous 7-3 wingspan, excellent hops and only about five per cent body fat, Leonard easily passes the NBA small forward "look test."
But can he actually play at an NBA level?
And even if so, what position does he play?
Those have been two of the biggest questions about Leonard and for some answers and further insight on the former Aztec, we turn to Edward Lewis, who covered Kawhi first-hand as the sports editor of the "Daily Aztec," San Diego State's Student Newspaper.
Here was his take on Mr. Leonard:
At San Diego State, his teammates nicknamed Kawhi, "The Human Avatar." He's a physical freak. His hands are double the size of mine - and while I don't exactly have Shaq's grip, I don't have tiny hands either. And his arm length / wingspan is wildly long - I heard it was actually the longest at the combine.
With those two attributes, he dominates the boards. Where most guys get fingertips on loose balls, he gets palms on them, because his hands are so big. Coach Steve Fisher said they were the biggest hands he's seen since Chris Webber. He also has such an instinct for rebounding. Most athletic guys, which is why most casual fans hate the NBA, see a shot go up and they just stand there and wait to see if it goes in or not. Kawhi always crashes the boards, whether the shot looks good or not, and he's always fighting for a rebound. Fisher said Kenneth Faried was probably the only rebounder better than Leonard in NCAA basketball.
The problem with Kawhi, though, is he's not a scorer. He got his points because he was in the Mountain West Conference. He rarely, and probably never, had a guy more athletic than him guarding him. So he could just go up at will over the guy. And even with that said, he never did it enough on a consistent basis. The Aztecs needed him to be that guy, and sometimes he tried, but he doesn't have that killer Kobe or Jordan instinct - and I doubt he ever will.
And finally, his biggest weakness is he has absolutely no J. I heard a bunch of propaganda that his new NBA shooting coach taught him a new motion and now he can't miss, but I've sat in Viejas Arena after practice and watched him take hundreds of jumpers against air and never miss. But in games, the shots just never fell. I'm assuming coaches will overlook that, thinking they can be the ones to teach him how to shoot, but he was really bad from 3-point land, which is a normal jumper in the NBA.
With all that said, though, this is a terrible draft class. He plays good defense, he's long and is the new prototypical 3 (think Shawn Marion or Gerald Wallace), so despite his shooting, he'll have a niche in the NBA.
Some terrific insight here and a big thanks to Edward, whose work can also be found at his site, "A Sports Writer's Website."
First of all, I think this is the most honest and realistic take on Leonard around; he's got solid potential, but you're not drafting the next Carmelo Anthony.
Not that anyone is comparing the two, but to Edward's point, this is not someone who's going to come in and light up the league offensively.
That being said, he's got a ton of very positive intangibles that the Raptors could use in bunches; his motor, size, length, rebounding skills, all would be a welcome addition to the Raps.
Now some may question if he's really as good of an athlete as was claimed to be the case as his pre-draft combine athletic tests were, well...disappointing to say the least. His max vertical was only 32 inches (hardly high-flyer material), he only bench pressed the 185 pound standard 3 times, and his agility score was worse than big men like Enes Kanter and Jeremy Tyler, and supposedly "unathletic" types like Kyle Singler.
However there's a big caveat to these scores in my opinion, and others as well, and that's that Leonard didn't participate in the earlier drills that day, and thus had next to no warm-up time prior to the tests.
He was also sitting in a freezing cold gym.
Beyond both though, a big part of me also simply says "who cares."
If you watched Leonard play the past two seasons you know that these test results don't do his game-play justice, and as per Edward's quotes from San Diego State coach, Steve Fisher, above, he's a terrific prospect.
You can see some of the reasons why in this Fox Sports compilation:
Is he the next Gerald Wallace, as some have speculated?
Maybe not right away, but if you look at Wallace's career, it took years for him to truly grow into his niche as "Crash," mostly during his latter years with Charlotte. At the very least Leonard I believe would be an impact player off the bench in his rookie season, providing hustle, energy and timely rebounding. I'm not expecting him to score much, in fact I could care less if he did, but on defense and rebounding ability alone, it's not out the question that by season's end, he's challenging James Johnson for minutes at the 3 (and maybe Linas Kleiza depending on Kleiza's recovery.)
And speaking of Johnson, and similar to Chris Singleton, would Leonard be a duplication at the 3?
I don't think so, mostly because of what Leonard provides on the glass and in terms of energy, but there are more similarities between these two than Singleton and Johnson. Johnson did measure out about an inch taller, and 30 pounds heavier than Leonard in his own pre-draft measurements, but Kawhi had an extra two inches on his wingspan and a better standing reach.
Both however posted similar scores in many areas, and neither put up great shooting numbers from long-range in college. (Kawhi shot under 30 per cent from the NCAA arc last season.)
But I'd take Leonard's upside over that of Johnson's any day.
To me, Leonard is the type of wing you need in today's NBA to field a winning team. He's probably your fourth or even fifth option offensively, but one of top two or three most valuable players because of the other things he brings to the table, and I'd be thrilled to see him in a Raptors' uniform next fall.