FanPost

Kawhi Leonard - Assessing our potential draft pick

 

     Let me start off by saying I have nothing against Kawhi Leonard.  He seems like a nice guy.  He’s overcome adversity.  His teammates like him.  And quite frankly, I have no reason to be down on him.  I want there to be star caliber players available at number 7.  I want a reason to believe in all of these players.  And I am completely open to there being Synergy Sports data or scouting information I don’t have that tells a different story.

 

     Sadly, for our hopes of having Leonard solve our SF issues, I just can’t find a lot of data that makes me think he can do that. Let’s get to it.

 

Defense

 

     I’m starting with defense, because this is supposed to be Leonard’s best skill.  Any evaluation on him discusses how he can be a top flight defender.  Oddly, these profiles have struck me as being more aspirational than being based off of college performance or any data.  Of course, defensive data is much scarcer than offensive metrics.  So, let’s try to work with what we have.

     One of the first measures of good college defenders is something I read a couple of years ago when Donte Greene was being evaluated for the draft.  One of the analysts noted that he had over a block and over a steal a game, which historically was a sign of players who were athletic and capable defenders, which led them to be good defensive pros.  While a lot of defense in the NBA is about playing good positional defense, even NBA defenders who don’t get a lot of blocks and steals typically have gaudy numbers against inferior college competition in at least one of those categories.

     So I compiled the block and steal numbers for a variety of good to great NBA wing defenders.  For fun, I looked back at our very own Doug Christie as well.

 

Player

STL/Game

BLK/Game

Kawhi Leonard

1.4

0.6

Shawn Marion

2.5

1.9

Doug Christie

2

0.7

Andre Iguodala

1.6

0.4

Shane Battier

2.1

2.3

Gerald Wallace

1.2

1

Rudy Gay

1.8

1.6

Tony Allen

2.1

0.9

Trevor Ariza

1.7

0.4

Ron Artest

2.1

1.2

Kevin Durant

1.9

1.9

Wesley Johnson

1.7

1.8

Corey Brewer

1.9

0.5

Ronnie Brewer

2.6

0.5

Caron Butler

2.1

0.4

Danny Granger

2.1

2

Tayshaun Prince

1.1

1.3

Luol Deng

1.3

1.1

(For the record, the draft’s other defensive wing, Chris Singleton, had 2 steals and 1.5 blocks per game)

 

Perhaps what stands out most about Kawhi’s defensive numbers are how little they stand out. 

     Of the 18 players listed above, Leonard ranks 15th overall in steals.  If we went on a per minute basis, he would drop to 16th, as Wallace’s numbers were in only 22 minutes a game (everyone else played 30+).

Out of the 18 players on the list, Leonard ranks 13th in blocks per game. 

     This certainly doesn’t mean he can’t be a good defender.  His numbers are very comparable to Iguodala, who is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league.  However, Iguodala also appears to be an exception to the rule here.  I will let you draw your own conclusions.

     Considering that Draftexpress praises him for “his length [that] often allows him to make plays in the passing lanes and contest shots” there is not a lot of evidence that this potential is translating onto the court.

     Another tool that I like to use in evaluating prospects is to look at their boxscores and see how they performed against other NBA caliber prospects they faced.  In that past this has been the downfall (for me) with supposed defenders such as Hilton Armstrong, who put up great block numbers against mediocre teams, but then got torched every time they faced a potential NBA player.

     Sadly, SDSU had a very soft schedule and Leonard did not face a single SG/SF/PF who ESPN has ranked in their top 60 draft prospects.  So while it’s possible he is a good man defender, there really isn’t any evidence we can use to prove or disprove that fact.

     SDSU did face BYU 3 times.  Jimmer had some good and bad stats against them.  They also played UCONN in the tournament and Kemba hit 12 of 24 shots and Lamb hit 9 of 11.  Without knowing who Leonard guarded, it’s very hard to draw any conclusions. ESPN claims that Leonard “lacks great lateral quickness,” so it wouldn’t be a surprise or an indictment of him if he did not guard the PGs.  I would question either SDSU’s coach or Leonard’s abilities if he wasn’t guarding the 6’5’’ SG Lamb though.

     Overall, nothing here would conclusively rule out Leonard becoming a great defender. However, I believe his lack of elite specialty numbers and the inability to judge his defense against even 2nd round NBA talent should dampens some of the expectations that he will automatically become a very good defensive player.

 

Offense

 

     While the defensive metrics might lessen expectations, the offensive numbers are much more conclusive.  The list below is a bit more scattered in terms of player types.  But I took a cross-section of players from this draft and NBA players with similar body types. 

 

Player

2P%

3P%

FT%

FTA/FGA

3PA/FGA

Ast/FGA

Kawhi Leonard - 2011

47.8

29.1

75.9

0.31

0.18

0.19

Chris Singleton - 2011

46.6

36.8

66.7

0.44

0.33

0.12

Andre Iguodala - 2004

49.3

31.5

78.8

0.39

0.24

0.49

Josh Howard - 2003

52.8

37.3

83.3

0.41

0.33

0.14

Josh Childress - 2004

53.6

39.5

82.1

0.37

0.34

0.24

Klay Thompson - 2011

46.6

39.8

83.8

0.34

0.45

0.23

Tobias Harris - 2011

49.7

30.3

75.3

0.42

0.19

0.11

Alec Burks - 2011

50.8

29.2

82.5

0.56

0.18

0.21

Evan Turner - 2010

54

36.4

75.8

0.4

0.12

0.4

James Harden - 2009

56.4

35.6

75.6

0.6

0.36

0.33

Caron Butler - 2002

49.9

40

77.9

0.38

0.14

0.19

Marshon Brooks - 2011

55.9

34

77.2

0.38

0.35

0.14

Nick Young - 2007

54.9

44

78.6

0.35

0.22

0.11

Ronnie Brewer - 2006

49.3

33.8

75

0.43

0.34

0.23

Jeff Green - 2007

55.9

37.5

77.5

0.34

0.25

0.31

Francisco Garcia - 2005

49.6

36.6

87.7

0.4

0.45

0.35

Corey Brewer - 2007

54.4

33.6

72.3

0.44

0.33

0.31

Tony Allen - 2004

55

29.7

67.5

0.48

0.18

0.27

Danny Granger - 2005

56.3

43.3

75.5

0.58

0.3

0.2

 

 

     Of the 19 players listed, Leonard had the worst 3 point percentage.  While some of these players are shooters, Leonard ranked behind Tony Allen, Corey Brewer, Ronnie Brewer and Caron Butler– none of whom have been good outside shooters in the NBA.

     We knew that Leonard needed to work on his outside shot, so my hope when I first started looking at the numbers was that he scored efficiently close to the hoop.  However, Leonard ranked 17th in 2 point percentage.  And according to Draftexpress, Synergy statistics had him “finish[ing] at just an average 53% rate around the rim.”

     And in case you wanted to attribute his poor shooting to him taking tough shots off the dribble, Draftexpress used Synergy’s data to find he hit only “32% of his catch and shoot jumpers.” 

     Kawhi seemed to realize his limitations, as he tied 2 others players for the 3rd smallest percentage of 3PA per FGA.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, except it makes it even stranger that he finished dead last in FTA per FGA.  And he didn’t just finish last, but looking at the chart, he lost badly.

     Scoring in general is an issue for him as Draftexpress writes, “according to Synergy Sports Technology, no single offensive situation accounted for more than 17% of his touches, with Spot-Ups, Isolations, Put Backs, Fast Breaks, Cuts, and Pick and Roll situations each accounting for anywhere between 8-18% of his total possessions. Leonard ranks right around the 45th percentile amongst all NCAA players in each of those metrics in terms of Points Per-Possession.” So he does not have a single scoring dimension he excels at even at the NCAA level.

     Also, while he is a decent ball handler, Leonard was tied for 12th in Assists per FGA. So basically, when he drives, he’s not making baskets efficiently, drawing fouls or setting up his teammates. 

     Again, if there’s hope on this list, it’s that his numbers bear some resemblance to our new favorite outlier – Andre Iguodala.  Although, to be fair, Iguodala made a higher percentage of 3s than Leonard. He had 1 assist for every 2 FGA (compared to 1 per 5 for Leonard).  And Iguodala had a higher 2 point FG% and FT% than Leonard.

 

So Is It All Bad?

 

No.  To be fair to Leonard, there are two things he does very well.

 

Player

A/TO

Off

Def

TOT

Kawhi Leonard - 2011

1.2

3.9

9.5

13.5

Chris Singleton - 2011

0.54

2.7

6.3

9

Shawn Marion - 1999

 

 

 

9.3

Andre Iguodala - 2004

1.77

2.7

6.7

9.4

Josh Howard - 2003

0.72

4

6

10

Josh Childress - 2004

1.2

2.6

7.6

10.2

Klay Thompson - 2011

1.1

0.8

5

5.8

Tobias Harris - 2011

0.71

2.7

7.2

9.9

Alec Burks - 2011

1.13

2.9

5

7.9

Evan Turner - 2010

1.36

2.3

8.2

10.5

James Harden - 2009

1.25

1.7

5.3

7

Caron Butler - 2002

1.03

3.4

4.7

8

Marshon Brooks - 2011

0.82

2.3

4.8

7.1

Nick Young - 2007

0.56

1.4

4

5.4

Ronnie Brewer - 2006

1.49

1.4

4

5.4

Jeff Green - 2007

1.23

2.2

6.3

8.6

Francisco Garcia - 2005

1.42

1.4

3.6

5.1

Corey Brewer - 2007

1.17

1.5

5

6.5

Tony Allen - 2004

1.11

2.3

4.7

7

Danny Granger - 2005

0.99

3.1

8.8

11.9

 

     While his A/T percentage isn’t elite, it is above average for a wing.  He’s generally below the true play-making wings like Iguodala, Turner, and Harden.  However, he does appear to be a good ball handler and avoids poor decisions compared to other SFs.

     Leonard also appears to be an elite rebounder on both sides of the ball.  The big offensive rebounding numbers show he wasn’t just the one big man for SDSU cleaning up opponents misses.  Since rebounding numbers do translate very well to the NBA, there’s no reason Leonard won’t be an elite rebounder for a SF in the league.

 

Overall

 

     So what does this all mean?  To be clear, these advanced statistics are still being perfected at the NBA level, where games and competition are much more uniform.  There is certainly much more noise at the NCAA-level.  I will be interested in hearing other’s opinions below.

     My beliefs based on the data though is that team that drafts Leonard  will be getting an elite rebounder who can help them on the boards the second he steps foot on the court. 

     However, offensively, he appears to be a bit of a disaster.  An issue that should become more pronounced in the NBA, where finishing inside will become harder than in the MWC.  Especially, since Synergy data showed there is not a single scoring situation that Leonard excels at.

     Defensively, there certainly is hope.  He has a great body and solid athleticism.  However, he did not face a single, draftable prospect all season and his peripheral numbers do not match up with other great defenders.  So while he might become a quality defender, it is also not a guarantee. 

    As for our Kings, our biggest needs are players who can play off the ball and score, distribute and help set up the offense at times, and defend the perimeter.  While it is possible that Leonard might do one of those three, he is enough of a liability offensively that I sincerely struggle to see how he would fit on our roster. 

     If Petrie rolls the dice on draft day, I will think positive thoughts and hope Leonard is another outlier like Iguodala.  Leonard is very young and all anecdotal evidence suggests that he is a hard worker and is very coachable.  That gives me hope.  However, it is questionable how soon Leonard will be able to contribute.  Even if he develops into a legitimate starting SF, it may not be for another 3-4 years.

 

Notes: The only statistics used in the tables were ones that appeared relevant (i.e. there was a noticeable different among Kawhi and the prospects.  Nothing good or bad was left out, information was not cherry-picked to tell a story as I have no vested interest in making Leonard look good or bad.  The data came from Draftexpress and my excel sheets were much bigger, but there are space limitations to pasting rows into Excel.  I am happy to email the data itself to anyone who PMs me.



(This is a FanPost from a member of the Sactown Royalty community. The views expressed come from the member, and not Sactown Royalty staff.)

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