Mar, 16, 2012; Oklahoma City OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) drives to the basket as San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) defends during the first quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE
ESPN has officially embarked on their quest to rank the top 500 NBA players for the upcoming season. As each Spur is listed, I will provide a synopsis and a brief take on why they deserve (or don’t) this ranking.
Kawhi Leonard parlayed a starting roster spot last season into a top 100 ranking in ESPN’s NBA Rank. He finished 95th, which denotes him as a capable top three option on an average team. Coming into his rookie season, Leonard ranked 296th.
Leonard quickly developed into a versatile threat away from the ball. His averages aren’t gaudy but, when you extrapolate them over 36 minutes, he averaged 11.9 points, 7.7 rebounds and 49.3% shooting. That equates to an above-average 16.6 PER, a mark only bested by four rookies last season (Gustavo Ayon, Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving, Kenneth Faried).
He also finished through contact remarkably well, as he converted on 68.8% of his attempts at the rim. Leonard shot 30% on non corner 3-pointers which is the only blemish on his rookie resume. Should he improve on these attempts, it isn’t inconceivable for him to shoot greater than 40% from behind the arc over an entire season.
My take. It is pretty easy to be optimistic when Leonard, 21, has already shown flashes of brilliance. A gradual ascent to the top 50 isn’t out of the question at this point.
Other Spurs already ranked: Tiago Splitter (149) | Stephen Jackson (151) | DeJuan Blair (155) | Danny Green (160) | Boris Diaw (162) | Gary Neal (171) | Matt Bonner (198) | Patty Mills (309) | James Anderson (424) | Cory Joseph (458) | Derrick Byars (488)