San Antonio Spurs: Player grades for the Kawhi Leonard trade
By Rob Wolkenbrod
With nearly one week for the Kawhi Leonard trade to sink in, how did the San Antonio Spurs fare with their return?
The NBA is five days post-Kawhi Leonard trade, when the San Antonio Spurs sent him and Danny Green to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick. Any ramifications of the deal will not be known until the season starts in October, but there are still takeaways from Wednesday’s transaction.
Right now, it’s a not-so-instant reaction and the chance to evaluate everything after the dust settled. Did the Spurs “win” this deal? Will they regret it three, six or 12 months down the line? Let’s take a look, grading each piece of the transaction:
2019 first-round pick
The only draft choice the San Antonio Spurs received from the Toronto Raptors, this 2019 first-round pick is protected. If it falls between 1-20, Toronto will keep it, and the Spurs receive two second-round picks. Anywhere after No. 20, it goes to the Silver and Black next June.
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The pick protection makes this part of the transaction difficult to act excited about. It could mean the Raptors made the playoffs with Leonard and Green, but not a top spot in the Eastern Conference. Especially with how deep the Western Conference is, it hurts Toronto’s ability to navigate those playoff draft picks and move towards the No. 25 range.
Falling between 1-20 may also mean that Leonard fails to live up to his performance from the 2016-17 season, after missing most of last year with a right quadriceps injury. That leads to two second-round picks. Of course, these have proven well for the Spurs before, but they often have short NBA stints, fail to make it to the court or go overseas.
However, if Leonard returns to form and keeps the Raptors at the top of the East, it means the Spurs add another first-round pick. Though, it might rub salt in the wound for San Antonio fans, since the player, who wanted out, found his groove after a turbulent season.
So, the Spurs will receive some type of draft pick compensation, but it’s debatable if they will see the first-rounder in June 2019’s selection process.
Next: Jakob Poeltl
The San Antonio Spurs received a young asset from the Toronto Raptors, with the arrival of Jakob Poeltl, a two-year center from Utah. He can make an impact as soon as the 2018-19 season, and San Antonio probably knows the production it will uncover.
Poeltl started to find his stride in year two in Toronto, playing all 82 games and averaging 6.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in just 18.6 minutes. So, the upside is there as a rim-protecting center, given his agility to move around the paint, the brightest part of his game.
The Spurs needed youth at center or power forward before the Kawhi Leonard trade, and they received it. In general, someone was needed to back up Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge, with the departure of Joffrey Lauvergne and only stretch fours that remained on the roster.
What’s Poeltl’s upside, though? There are questions on if he can play when teams use small-ball, three-point shooting lineups. He’s agile but not fast and may struggle to keep up with and close out three-point shooters. Plus, through two seasons, the 22 year old has only taken two perimeter shots, so he’s hardly a stretch four or five.
The vocal majority wanted OG Anunoby or were at least surprised by his absence in the deal, the two-way swingman from Toronto that flashed upside in his rookie season. He possessed full-time starter upside in 2017-18 and received main defense playoff assignments, but the Silver and Black landed on Poeltl.
Second. I can’t believe the Raptors landed Kawhi Leonard and didn’t have to give up OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam or a future first when they will be bad (as opposed to these protections in 2019). Didn’t think a deal would happen because I didn’t think Masai would part with OG/PS
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) July 18, 2018
How the .. I mean … uhh … speechless.
I love me some DeMar DeRozan, but not having to give up OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam in the Kawhi Leonard trade is some David Blaine shit.
— Chris Walder (@WalderSports) July 18, 2018
Also, how does one do a deal with TOR while giving up Kawhi Leonard and not come away with OG Anunoby? And they gave up a real asset in Danny Green, too. Just, kind of a weird deal all around for SAS.
— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) July 18, 2018
Just.. a strange deal for the Spurs. You've dealt away a real asset in Danny Green (expiring deal, 3&D guy) and Kawhi, but you're not even getting OG Anunoby out of the deal.
— Brian H (@RunTheJules) July 18, 2018
I know people have already said this, but how on earth did find Spurs not bring back OG Anunoby in a Kawhi deal?
— T.J. McBride (@TJMcBrideNBA) July 18, 2018
Wait, #Spurs didn’t even get OG Anunoby? I’ve never questioned this organization’s decision-making…until NOW.
— Zachary Tennen (@ZachTennen) July 18, 2018
Anunoby could have been that young wing for San Antonio to mold; maybe not Kawhi-esque, but someone who has the length and athleticism to slot into the starting lineup and play quality minutes. Especially without Danny Green, they failed to recoup a perimeter defender, since DeMar DeRozan is known for his offensive game.
Poeltl will be a solid player for the Spurs, but the upside is limited. He may become a full-time starter or stay as a backup for the next 10 years.
Next: DeMar DeRozan
DeMar DeRozan became the obvious headliner of the return package for the San Antonio Spurs, as the 20-point All-Star, they coveted. He slots into the starting lineup, between Dejounte Murray and the starter at small forward, and provides the Spurs with the scorer they missed last season.
Without Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge rose to the main scorer role, but never found someone to act as the No. 2 option behind him. Of course, if Leonard played more than nine games, this would not have been a conversation, but the Spurs played the second half of the season and the playoffs without him.
So, if Leonard was always intent on a departure from San Antonio, then the Spurs found not just a replacement, but an upgrade based on what they received from their 2017-18 roster. It’s someone who will take the slack off Aldridge and likely cross 20 points for a sixth consecutive season.
Questions fall under other parts of DeRozan’s game, however, including his three-point ability, which crossed 30 percent for just the third time in his nine-year career. Toronto still won 59 games with him as their main player, but in a three point-wielding Western Conference, he may have to improve from 31.2 percent in the 2017-18 season.
Defensively, this is hardly Leonard-esque. DeRozan’s Defensive Rating has fallen between 107 and 110 in each season since 2011-12. The trade-off is the ability to score, but this franchise has featured premier perimeter defenders for most of the Gregg Popovich era and, without Leonard, Kyle Anderson and Danny Green around, there will be pressure on the USC product, and in a heavy minutes load.
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The Spurs picked up who they wanted, and it was a quality player for someone who might not be the same after a year-long injury saga. If DeRozan can work with the Spurs and improve in these questionable areas of his game, this could be a home run for the next two or three years.