As the new school year approaches, we're rewinding things with Back to School Week! This week, we'll take a look back at the amateur years of some of the biggest stars to suit up for the Raptors or hail from Canada.
It's hard to believe that 14 players were selected ahead of Kawhi Leonard in the 2011 NBA Draft, but there were some real concerns about his game coming out of college.
At the top of the list? His jump shot.
Kawhi made a total of 41 3-pointers in his two seasons at San Diego State, doing so at a 25.0 percent clip. While he proved he could score in other ways, he was known more for his rebounding and defence coming into the NBA, which raised questions about what position he would play at the next level. It's why he was compared to the likes of Luc Mbah a Moute , Gerald Wallace and Shawn Marion - three forwards who dealt with questions about their jump shot for their entire professional careers - in the lead-up to the draft.
"Connecting on just 32% of his catch and shoot jumpers and 28% of his pull-ups last season, the sophomore struggled with his consistency from range," Matt Kamalsky of Draft Express wrote about Kawhi in 2011. "As with all players noted for their hand size, there are questions about Leonard's ability to develop a reliable jump shot. While there is some merit to that stereotype, it will be necessary for Leonard to continue honing that part of his game to the greatest extent possible."
And hone it he did.
Thanks to some small tweaks in his form , Kawhi checked out as one of the most accurate shooters in the NBA by the 2015-16 season, when he finished second in MVP voting. He knocked down 44.3 percent of his 3-point attempts and led the league in scoring off of spot-ups . He was also among the league leaders in 2-point pull-ups, making as many per game as Kyrie Irving at the same efficiency as Chris Paul.
At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, there's next to nothing defenders can do to contest his shot in those situations.
Kawhi did more of the same in 2016-17 in making 38.0 percent of his 3-point attempts, finishing at the top of the league in spot-up scoring once again and establishing himself as a DeMar DeRozan-like threat from midrange . The combination helped him average a career-high 25.5 points per game that season, putting him in between LeBron James and Stephen Curry in the scoring column.
The other parts of his game have improved, too: Kawhi is now a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and a three-time member of the All-Defensive First Team.
In his lone season with the Raptors, Leonard got back to being one of the best two-way players in the NBA, averaging a career-high 26.6 points in the regular season while shooting 49.6 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from long range. He only improved upon these numbers in the postseason, averaging 30.5 points per game while shooting 37.9 percent from deep to lead the Toronto Raptors to the first title in their franchise's history.
Now, as Kawhi embarks upon the next stage in his career with the LA Clippers, he returns to Southern California as a much-improved shooter than he was during his days at San Diego State.
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