The Kawhi Leonard saga is over. According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the San Antonio Spurs have agreed to trade the two-time All-Star to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick.
Spurs have agree to trade Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to Toronto for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick, league sources tell ESPN. Trade call with league office is starting shortly.- Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 18, 2018
Leonard joins a Raptors team looking to capitalize on LeBron James leaving the Eastern Conference next season. Toronto won a franchise-best 59 games in the 2017-18 season, and yet their revamped offense wasn't enough to prevent them from suffering the same defeat - a sweep at the hands of LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs - as the season prior. As risky as it is trading a four-time All-Star in the prime of his career for someone who only has one year remaining on their contract, a healthy Leonard has the potential to take the Raptors to an entirely new level.
The Kawhi Leonard of 2016-17 was one of the best offensive players in the NBA. Not only did he finish between LeBron James and Stephen Curry in scoring with 25.5 points per game, the San Diego State product shot an efficient 48.5 percent from the field, 38.0 percent from 3-point range and 88.0 percent from the charity stripe. He generated more of his scoring on open shots than the league's other leading scorers - one benefit of playing in Gregg Popovich's tried-and-tested system - but it had just as much to do with Leonard being as complete of a scorer as there is in the NBA.
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According to NBA.com, Leonard was as efficient as James Harden in pick-and-rolls, JJ Redick on spot-ups, Kevin Durant in transition, Russell Westbrook in isolation and DeMarcus Cousins on post-ups in 2016-17. While he didn't score as frequently as Harden in pick-and-rolls and Cousins in the post, the combination of those five plays made up over three-quarters of his scoring on the season.
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Leonard's versatility should make for an easy transition with the Raptors. His comfort spotting-up, for example, means Kyle Lowry can continue functioning as the primary ball handler and the offense can continue running through Jonas Valanciunas in the post and elbows.
If defenders dare help off of Leonard when he doesn't have the ball in his hands, he'll make himself available for a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer, a shot he made 43.0 percent of the time in 2016-17.
His ability to run a pick-and-roll and attack mismatches, beit in isolation or the post, gives Toronto someone else they can run the offense through, too. Leonard made the sixth-most 2-point pull-ups in 2016-17, doing so at a rate similar to DeRozan, CJ McCollum and Kyrie Irving. There's little defenders can do to contest his shots in those situations considering he's 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, making him a Durant-like threat from midrange.
If a smaller defender switches onto him, Leonard will simple rise-up over them.
If a bigger defender switches onto him, Leonard will put their lateral quickness to the test with simple but effective moves off the dribble.
If there's one knock on Leonard as an offensive player, it's that he doesn't generate much scoring for his teammates. Fortunately for him, he's replacing someone who was never known for his passing, even though DeRozan is coming off of a season in which he averaged a career-high 5.2 assists per game. Sharing the floor with the likes of Lowry and Fred VanVleet will therefore give Toronto enough playmaking for Leonard to play to his strengths on offense.
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As dominant of an offensive players as he is when healthy, Leonard is arguably better on defense. In addition to being a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, the Los Angeles native is a three-time member of the All-Defensive First Team and a one-time member of the All-Defensive Second Team. The long arms that help him shoot over players on offense helps him harass the best scorers in the league on defense, as he displayed time and time again in the 2016-17 season when he averaged 1.8 steals and 0.7 blocks per contest.
The Raptors finished last season ranked sixth in defensive efficiency. With Leonard now on-board, they should be able to compete with the best of the best on that end of the floor. The combination of him and OG Anunoby in particular gives Toronto two exceptionally long wings who are comfortable guarding basically every forward in the league, as well as most guards. (Just imagine one of Leonard and Anunoby guarding the opposing team's best forward while the other plays free safety). With Lowry being the pesky defender he is at the point of attack, plus Serge Ibaka - an All-NBA type defender when he's at his best - the Raptors have the makings of a defense that can hang with the Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers.
It will become a factor when playing against the Celtics and 76ers, two teams expected to finish at the top of the Eastern Conference next season with the Raptors. Both have talented playmakers on their roster, from Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum on the Celtics to Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz on the 76ers, so Leonard gives Toronto the depth they need to slow down those high-powered offenses.
This, of course, is all assuming Leonard returns to full strength next season. His MVP-caliber season was cut short by an injury he suffered against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. He then appeared in only nine games last season, averaging 16.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 46.8 percent shooting from the field. It adds to the risk involved in the deal from Toronto's side, but the potential upside that comes with adding a top tier scorer and defender makes it a gamble that could payoff in a big way for Masai Ujiri.
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