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.
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.
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.