Despite San Diego State's lofty No. 2 seed, the 2011 NCAA Tournament might be just the first or second opportunity for most NBA fans to see star sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard in action. The then-unheralded Leonard burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2009-10, and the Aztecs' larger national profile has been pushed considerably by Leonard and teammate Malcom Thomas. Leonard could have been a first-round pick in the 2010 NBA Draft; staying in school one additional year looks like a boon, though, as DraftExpress currently slots him at No. 13 in the weaker 2011 derby.
Leonard is a scoring forward with middling to poor efficiency. But given how large a role he soaks up for San Diego State, one could reasonably expect his floor percentages to boost with fewer shots at the NBA level. An athletic outside-in ball of energy, Leonard shouldn't have trouble getting his shot off in the pros, despite a somewhat small stature.
Shot selection will truly be the key for Leonard in the NBA, as it is with most primary scorers. At SDSU, Leonard takes a huge number of difficult shots, many in the paint where often larger help defenders can swallow him alive. If he continues to play for the circus shot versus drawing the foul at the pro level, his paint shooting percentage will plummet. Alternately, if he's placed into a situation where he's free to move off the ball and sprint out in transition, he could absolutely thrive early on.
The fear is that Leonard lacks the polish and shot discipline -- two traits he hasn't really needed at San Diego State -- to make a seamless transition. But on physical attributes, energy and raw production, he'll have plenty of fans. Look for Leonard, should he enter the draft, to battle with Terrence Jones and Harrison Barnes in workouts and on "big boards." Leonard has the right physical NBA attributes, but the others, being more highly touted out of high school, have a nice head start.
WHO: Kawhi Leonard, forward, San Diego State. 6'7, 225 pounds. Outside-in socrer/rebounder.
WHEN: Thursday, March 17 at 4:40 PM Eastern, San Diego State vs. Northern Colorado, TNT.
PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION: Fans of the Suns and Rockets.
NBA COMPARISON: Carl Landry midtransformation into Zach Randolph.
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