In the 2010-11 season, the San Antonio Spurs won 61 games. Two months later, the Spurs went and got a player who currently looks like the second-best player in the 2011 NBA Draft. This is not fair.
Kawhi Leonard entered the 2011 draft season emblematic of the class writ large: he had pretty nice potential thanks to size and athleticism, but lacked enough skill to make him a definite NBA player. The Spurs saw something else: he was an impossibly hard worker eager to learn and open to coaching. So as Leonard mystifying fell down out of the lottery -- which even skeptics had to be surprised about -- the Spurs saw an opportunity to snag him. They sent George Hill to the Indiana Pacers for the No. 15 pick in a deal that truly benefited both clubs.
Most of the other teams that passed up on Leonard likely regret it to some degree. As with all things Spurs, there's a paradox involved. Is Kawhi so great because he's a Spur, or are the Spurs so good because they find a way to get players like Kawhi? Is Danny Green a useful NBA player only because he plays in San Antonio, or is San Antonio seemingly permanently fantastic because they find players like Danny Green?
It's some of both, of course, but there's no question that Kawhi would have had success wherever he landed. This much? Likely not -- Kawhi's greatest gifts are on defense, and nothing is as invisible as a tremendous defender on a team that doesn't care. (This is what Kings fans, who ended up with Jimmer Fredette and John Salmons in 2011 instead of Kawhi and Beno Udrih, tell themselves to sleep at night.) Going a step further, individual defense is difficult to scout, especially for college players from smaller conferences who have heavier offensive duties than they'll have in the NBA. Kawhi fit that model coming out of San Diego State.
But in retrospect, the signs should have been obvious to any team that interviewed him and did their homework. They would have found an imminently coachable wing with a fantastic physical profile, a recipe for success.
Let the lesson stand heading into the 2013 draft. The lack of a developed offensive skill set at age 20 should not scare teams off for hard-working players with the size, speed, agility and attitude to make a difference. Cough Otto Porter (scouting report) cough cough cough.
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