Kawhi Leonard entered the 2011 NBA Draft with an abundance of athletic ability and a work ethic germane to success at the highest level.
But pundits and scouts alike didn’t believe Leonard could convert from the perimeter with any constancy, a belief that was supported by his 25% mark from behind the arc in two collegiate seasons.
For the most part, Leonard erased that belief last season by shooting 38.8% on 121 spot-up 3-pointers and by excelling in the corner, an intricate part of the Spurs’ offense. When he wasn’t on the perimeter, Leonard refined his ability to play off his teammates in the form of cuts, offensive rebounds and in transition, where he scored 1.29 points per possession and shot 63.6%.
Once Leonard forged enough space in the paint, he was an elite scorer at the rim. His 68.8% shooting at the rim, per HoopData.com, belonged in the same class as elite small forwards like LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
Leonard fulfilled a menial role, considering the Spurs generally asked him to space the floor instead of relying on his athleticism to create shots, and one that didn’t showcase his entire repertoire. That being said, Leonard was still effective, and he did not waver, indicative of his ability to fufill almost any practical hole.
So it’s fair to ask given his impressive rookie season: How high is his ceiling? The general consensus is that he will likely become a fringe All-Star and solid contributor for any rotation. (A consensus I agree with.) Ethan Strauss believes Leonard could become an eventual All-Star, fitting with the tier of above-average forwards like Rudy Gay, Nicolas Batum and Danilo Gallinari.
“While I certainly would not bet on superstardom for Leonard, I would not bet against an eventual All-Star Game. After Kevin Durant, the small forward talent pool is shallow out West. It wouldn’t take a lot for Leonard to stand out amid Rudy Gay, Nicolas Batum and Danilo Gallinari.
“With his defense, rebounding and athleticism, don’t sleep on Kawhi Leonard becoming a star in three or four years. He has the potential, and he’s with the kind of team that converts a man’s potential into man’s play.”
If there ever was a place where Leonard could be cultivated into an elite player, it would be San Antonio. In this sense, he is lucky.
And so are the Spurs.