Kawhi Leonard Climbing Draft Boards, Onto Cavaliers’ Radar

Last week when we took a look at the Draft Lottery Machine and came up with what seems like every scenario imaginable, not a single simulation had the Cleveland Cavaliers taking San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard with one of the first round picks. But as the lottery draws ever closer, Leonard’s is a name that has been gaining momentum.

If you recall, San Diego State was one of the surprise stories of the 2010-11 NCAA basketball season. The Aztecs earned a #2 seed in the tournament and lost to eventual champion UConn in the Sweet 16 round. They finished the year with a 34-3 record. The biggest reason for their surge was Kawhi Leonard, who averaged 15.5 ppg and 10.6 rpg to lead the team in both categories.

When the sophomore declared for the draft, some projected him as a project who would be taken mid first round. But as he has been demonstrating vast improvements in workouts and a word of mouth campaign has been spreading, Leonard has seen his name vaulted into the top 10 of the draft and now some are saying he may even be a top 5 prospect.

Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld.com has a profile on Leonard and his pre draft workouts and he says virtually every team in the top 10 has Leonard on their radar:

That’s the case with Kawhi Leonard, who is climbing draft boards and solidifying himself as the best small forward in this class. Every top team – from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Toronto Raptors to the Washington Wizards – has expressed significant interest in Leonard.

Leonard is currently working out at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas and he’s improving each and every day. He has turned heads and he has all of the trainers and prospects singing his praises.


Nearly every lottery team has Leonard high on their draft board. After Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams, this draft is wide open and there’s a possibility that Leonard could move into the top five.

Kawhi Leonard is easy to like with his unique blend of athleticism, power and range. He won’t have any trouble making a team fall in love with his game, and where he ultimately lands will have a lot to do with where the ping pong balls bounce next week.

As we pointed out last week, SF is definitely a position of great need for the Cavaliers this offseason. So would it be a reach for the Cavaliers to take Leonard with their first pick in the draft? Not necessarily.

Should the Cavaliers wind up with the 4th pick, they would miss out on prized prospects Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams for sure, but they would also likely miss out on Enes Kanter, the prospect many suspect the Cavaliers would have ranked 3rd on their wish list. If Kanter is gone at #4 as well, it would be pretty wide open on who the Cavaliers would take.

ESPN’s draft lottery has the Cavaliers favoring Kemba Walker, and Walker would likely be a popular pick amongst fans as well, but I’m not convinced the Cavaliers would pick him. Walker is likely too undersized to ever be effective playing minutes at the 2 guard position, but at PG his ceiling probably isn’t high enough to warrant being drafted top 5. Which isn’t to say Walker can’t be a good NBA PG, it’s just too much of a risk that he won’t be to feel comfortable taking him top 5.

That leaves a lot of European prospects for the Cavaliers to consider. We’ve seen names like Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely, Enes Kanter, Dontas Motiejunas, and Bismack Biyombo as potential Cavaliers targets. When it comes to European players, though, scouting is always a fine art. European players’ skills don’t always translate quite right to the NBA. With Leonard, although the level of his competition wasn’t always the greatest, there’s still a fair amount of tape on him playing against opponents in a more NBA style of basketball than many European leagues. It’s not impossible that at some point Chris Grant decides to play it safe in his first draft and goes with the more known quantity in Kawhi Leonard.

Of course, it’s not like Leonard doesn’t have his own question marks. Some feel he racked up inflated numbers against vastly inferior opponents. In San Diego State’s loss to UConn in the tourney, Leonard played a pretty pedestrian game and ended up with a decent, but not overwhelming, 12 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists. There are questions about Leonard’s ability to shoot consistently from long range as well as questions about his defensive intensity and fundamentals.

It’s hard to imagine the Cavaliers taking Leonard with their first pick in the top 5, but if Leonard is still available when the Cavaliers are on the clock with the Clippers’ pick, don’t be surprised if Leonard is the guy they decide to take.

  • Lyon

    The word of mouth stuff reminds me of Tobias on Arrested Development trying to spread his name @ the movie studio.

    I wouldn’t mind this guy with the 2nd pick. But like mentioned, he did disappear against UConn. I do like the fact that even though he isn’t the biggest he goes after the boards. love that.

    I see him as a Shawn Marion type guy & not sure that really warrants a top 5 pick. But then again, he can’t be much worse than our SF we have now.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    Marion had PER seasons of 21.0, 19.8, 21.3, 19.9, 21.7, 23.6, 20.8, and 20.0 before he was traded to Toronto. I’d gladly use a top-five pick on that. While I’m not sure KL can provide that, the Cavs would bendover backwards if they could guarantee a “Shawn Marion type.”

  • Lyon

    I understand his numbers were good, but in my mind, when you draft a guy in top 5, I want someone who is going to be a #1 on your team.

    wishful thinking? Yes. But that’s how I see it, and there’s no way you could say Marion was ever a #1. Now if you draft this guy with the Marion expectation and only want him to be a #2 or #3 option, then I’m fine with that.

  • Matt


    “This Funke is all anyone’s talking about…” (nicely done on the AD reference)

    I am of the mind that since the Cavs have two picks, they ideally go Irving/Williams one and then go for highest possible potential with the second pick. While I like Leonard and think he can be a rotation player in the NBA, I think the only other players who have All-Star potential outside of Irving/Williams are Kanter/Valuncias/Biyombo/mayyyyybe Brandon Knight. If we can get Irving/Williams with our first pick, why not shoot for the moon and get someone raw but with tons of potential? It’s not like the Cavs are in win-now mode, this is a weak draft, and we might as well try and get our money’s worth.

  • Believelander

    ((!**(!*+_!(%(!*%)!F!CN*)@$!*(@(*!(!$(@!*!&(!_@*%(!@_%&*(!@_*%()*%@(!@*) INDIANS!!!! JUS’ SAYIN

  • Shamrock

    I hope they draft talent and not like what the Browns did. I also hope, for the fans, thst they get a top 3 pick or you might see “the talent” go right before their pick. I really want Williams. Put him at SF and let him play.

  • Jake Udell

    I think I’d may rather have him then derrick williams and would not be surprised if they even used the 3rd pick on him with williams gone because he will sell tickets. Hes already great plus he has a ton of potential he could be a superstar, hes almost like a more athletic sullinger somewhat. Plus with his leaping ability and motor he’ll sell tickets. He is a lot like lebron and varejao hybrid except for the passing part, great body, excellent scorer, great leaper, excellent motor, great defender, long arms, huge hands, great rebounder too. Remember LeBron had question marks with his shot too coming out. If he improves his shot he could be a superstar. I might say that the 6 most likely superstars are him, irving, knight, walker, williams, selby, and maybe the morris twins, and fredette. With the third pick it should probably be either him or knight

  • Roderick Angelo

    He would be a nice addition as a Shawn Marion type of player. He is not a great ball handler which is somewhat of a problem. I would love to take him with our 2nd pick and build our team around defense like the bulls did. They’re a team that can keep their entire roster in-tact especially if the NBA places a hard cap in the future. I like him and Irving to be players we can have in the draft. If we do not take Canter or Irving with our top pick. Personally I would like to add James Harden to our roster and possibly sign Marc Gasol as a restricted free agent, and also add Leonard to our team. Who knows maybe Lebron James feels bad and doesn’t win a ring in Miami opts out and begs to come back to our revamped roster.