Watching Kawhi Leonard develop as a player has been absolutely remarkable.
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Once thought of as a niche player who could eventually become an important rotation guy for a successful team, Leonard is now widely acknowledged as being one of the elite overall players in the NBA.
Leonard was originally projected to be a late lottery pick, but ended up barely slipping out of lottery range to the Spurs at number 15 in the 2011 NBA draft.
The buzz about him coming out of San Diego State was that he was raw offensively, but could immediately contribute on defense to an NBA team.
Leonard was somewhat of a late bloomer as a national prospect. He was named Mr. Basketball in California, despite being ranked in the top 50 for college recruits in 2009. Because of that, he did not attend a powerhouse college like Duke, UCLA, or North Carolina.
Luckily for him, he got there right as Steve Fisher was building a winner. As a sophomore, Leonard was the best player on a 34-3 Aztec team, but hardly the guy who has blossomed into an
Apr 22, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots over Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (9) in game three of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at FedExForum. Spurs defeated Grizzlies 96-87. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
NBA force on offense.
What’s remarkable is looking at his progression as a shooter. At San Diego State, he didn’t have reliable range from even the college 3-point line. He never cracked 30% from beyond the arc in his time at San Diego State.
As a free throw shooter, he left the NCAA with a career percentage of 74 percent. He was decent from the line, but hardly elite.
Fast-forward five years into his NBA career, and Leonard is unequivocally one of the best shooters in the league. He ranked 4th in the NBA by shooting about 44 percent from downtown, and ranked 11th in the NBA by shooting about 87 percent from the free throw line.
Improvement at shooting is about repetition, and although Leonard didn’t seem blessed with the innate ability to be a marksman on the court, the fact that he’s become such a great shooter since he entered the league is perhaps more impressive.
It is a signal of not only the San Antonio Spurs’ terrific player development staff, but what a hard worker Leonard is.
He commits himself to improving all aspects of his game and becoming the best player he can possibly be, and there’s still potential for him to get even better than he already is right now.