Kawhi Leonard was the 15th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and if you re-drafted eight years later, would probably be the first overall pick. Will the 15th pick in the 2019 draft end up being the best of the bunch?
Knowing the player he's become, it's hard to believe that 14 players were selected ahead of 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. That's not exactly the type of skill that would lead one to think that someday he'd be walking into clutch 3s down the stretch of an NBA Finals game or draining steps backs off the dribble in front of Joel Embiid.
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While he proved he could score in other ways, he was known more for his rebounding and defense 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, if 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. That type of transformation over just a few short years serves as a tremendous testament to his work ethic and San Antonio's player development. 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.
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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.
In this most recent postseason run, Leonard drained 36.0 percent of his pull-up 3s including 44.4 percent in the NBA Finals. That completed his transformation from a draft day question mark to a no-doubt-about-it sniper from downtown.
The shooting isn't the only aspect of his game that improved by leaps and bounds: Kawhi is now a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and a three-time member of the All-Defensive First Team. He's also among the most relentless on the glass, especially among players his size. "Board man gets paid," and nobody on the Raptors went into traffic to snare boards quite like Leonard, who had far and away the most contested rebounds of any Toronto player this postseason.
As 60 players get set to hear their name called during the night of the draft, Kawhi Leonard stands as an example that what a player looks like now doesn't necessarily mean that's what a player will look like in the future.
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