Leading up to Draft Night on June 23, we’re going to profile the draft prospects that we feel are most likely to be on the Raptors’ radar for the fifth overall pick. Going alphabetically, Kawhi Leonard is next.
Weight: 225 lbs.
Date of birth: June 29, 1991
Likely NBA position: SF
While you have some prospects like Jimmer Fredette who are projected to go anywhere from the middle to the end of the this year’s draft lottery, there appears to consensus around sophomore small forward Kawhi Leonard that he won’t fall out of the top 10. Sacramento is reportedly considering him with their seventh overall pick, so it wouldn’t be a shock if the Raptors nabbed with with the fifth pick.
In two years at San Diego State, Leonard stood out as a defensive stalwart with a steady demeanor and a high level of coachability. While he’s far from being one of the more glamorous prospects in this draft, he has the look of a player who can contribute right away and has a very low bust potential.
What impresses you most about Leonard?
Scott Carefoot: There is a lot to like about Kawhi Leonard’s body and game. Standing six-foot-seven with a seven-foot-three wingspan and just 5.4 percent body fat, he certainly looks the part of an athletic NBA wingman. On the floor, what stands out about him the most is his willingness to crash the boards — he average of 10.6 rebounds per game placed him ninth in the NCAA last season. He can guard three positions effectively and he uses his high motor and long reach to terrorize passing lanes. Offensively, Leonard is a decent but not great finisher at the basket. And he’s unlikely to have any problem hanging on to the ball with his freakishly huge hands.
Holly MacKenzie: While DeMar DeRozan is listed at 6-foot-7, Kawhi Leonard is 6-foot-7. Leonard’s frame is solid, and he has the size (thanks to that wingspan and those ridiculous hands) to be an excellent positional rebounder. My favorite things about Leonard are his intangibles: the willingness to work, the desire to get better, the drive to truly expand his game and become an all-around player — it’s all legit with Leonard. He’s not just telling media members and talent evaluators what they want to hear, either. Leonard’s coaches at Impact Basketball — where the incoming rook has been preparing for the NBA — have said that no other soon-to-be draftee has shown more improvement than Leonard. That’s not surprising, and it’s that fire and no-nonsense approach that has Leonard flying up the draft boards.
Joseph Casciaro: His length, his youth, his defensive potential, and of course, his alien-like gigantic hands. Surely, at just 19-years-old, you would have to figure that all of those things will eventually come together to make Kawhi Leonard a pretty good NBA player. This is a guy who can become a very good defensive and rebounding small forward in the future, and with his body and skill-set, could step in and make an impact on the defensive end and the glass right away. That has to intrigue a young team that lacks defensive prowess like the Raptors.
What are your biggest concerns about Leonard’s NBA prospects?
Scott Carefoot: Despite how impressive he looks physically, Leonard tested surprisingly poorly at the draft combine with just a 32.5-inch vertical leap and only three bench reps. Offensively, he needs a lot of work on his ball-handling and outside game — it’s safe to say that early in his NBA career, he’ll get most of his points in transition and on putbacks. On the defensive end, he has a penchant for gambling that can lead to easy scoring opportunities for the opposition.
Holly MacKenzie: Leonard is an extremely exciting prospect. He’s very athletic and loves to get up and down the floor. But his game is still very raw at this point. Simply put: he needs to become a better shooter. Jim Kelly noted that Leonard had already shown noticeable improvement in that regard by the time he worked out with the Raptors, and it’s encouraging to know that Leonard is aware of (and attempting to rectify) his own weaknesses. Still, he has quite a way to go in making that jumper a legitimate weapon on the NBA level, and in refining his offensive game in general. Leonard said he felt that he didn’t have a chance to showcase his ball-handling skills during his time at San Diego State, but the college game isn’t exactly the NBA. Leonard will have to work on his handle, too, to become an effective NBA wing. Despite both of these things, I wouldn’t vote against him.
Joseph Casciaro: My biggest concern with Leonard is how raw and undeveloped his offensive game supposedly is. While you could argue that the Raptors already have enough scorers and need defensive-minded players like Leonard, having Reggie Evans the last couple of seasons should outline the need for at least a capable offensive player. You don’t want a player who is so offensive challenged or incapable that opposing teams totally ignore him in their coverages. Having said that, I highly doubt Kawhi Leonard is going to be nearly as poor an offensive player as Reggie Evans, and with his youth and athleticism, he should be able to at least keep defenses honest.
How good of a fit do you think Leonard would be on the Raptors?
Scott Carefoot: A player like Leonard shouldn’t have a hard time fitting in wherever he ends up. Who doesn’t want a player who works hard, crashes the boards and can guard multiple positions? Considering the Raptors’ ongoing defensive difficulties, he would likely make an immediate impact on that end and could quickly become a fan favorite in Toronto. My only caveat is that it’s unclear (aside from superior rebounding) what he can bring to his position that James Johnson doesn’t provide already.
Holly MacKenzie: Personally, I love the idea of Leonard on the Raptors roster. He’s young, athletic and hardworking. He’s also tough as nails, something this team desperately needs. He’ll get after it, crash the boards and run opponents out of the gym, even if he’s running himself into the ground just to ensure that he’s the last man standing. As Scott and Joseph are sure to mention, the team currently has James Johnson slotted in the SF position, but are we sure Johnson is meant to be a legitimate starter on a competitive team? I’m not convinced yet. With the way so many GMs and scouts have been raving over Leonard, I’m leaning toward being convinced that he’s something special, and worth taking a chance on with the fifth pick in this year’s draft.
Joseph Casciaro: In terms of Leonard’s skill set and potential, he is the type of player that does fit the Raptors’ needs, especially going forward with a young, athletic, defensive movement. But to be frank, despite those matches, I don’t see Leonard as a particularly good fit in Toronto right now. First, you can look at the fact that the Raptors already have a young defensive-minded small forward who can rebound in James Johnson, and Johnson played well enough to warrant another opportunity with the team this season. Secondly, even if you go by the “draft the best player available” philosophy and forget about positional needs, I have a real hard time believing that Kawhi Leonard will be the best player available at number five.