Every day, the 2011 NBA draft looms closer. I'm excited, as I assume many Bobcats' fans are. In this year's draft, the Bobcats have two first round picks, at the 9th and 19th spots. Today, I'll be focusing on a possible Bobcats prospect and draftee (with the 9th pick), Kawhi Leonard.
For draft evaluators much more knowledgable than myself, the role that Kawhi Leonard will play in the NBA is not yet clearly defined. Standing 6'6" tall and weighing only 227 pounds, Leonard is blessed with unbelievable athleticism and versatility. At the May draft combine in Chicago, Leonard was recorded as having a 7'3" wingspan, a measurement typical of an NBA center. Coupled with a strong vertical and the ability to defend several positions, Leonard can fit into a variety of roles as an NBA player. In a transition-based offense (which the Bobcats seek to run), Leonard's skills would especially flourish.
According to most evaluators, Leonard's greatest talent lies in his defensive impact and ability to rebound at a terrific rate. Considered one of the best defenders in this draft, he should be able to guard shooting guards and both forward positions at the NBA level. Much of Leonard's defensive prowess lies in his excellent footwork and ball pursuit on defense, giving him the chance to excel in help defense.
Though Leonard's ability to succeed defensively for an NBA team is generally known, what he will bring offensively in the NBA is much less clear. While the smoothness of his defensive game transfers to his offensive movements (in transitions, on cuts, etc.), Leonard struggled mightily with his shooting throughout his college career. Leonard has the ability to create jump shots with ease, especially from midrange, but he lacks the ability to consistently capitalize on these looks. Though he was able to improve upon his 3PT shooting percentage between his freshman and sophomore seasons at San Diego State (from 20.5% to 29.1%), Leonard will need to improve upon the consistency and reliability of his offensive range in the NBA.
However, positive facets are clear and very present in Kawhi Leonard's offensive game. Leonard possesses a quality post game, and can often use his size and athleticism to be effective against smaller, undersized small forwards. Leonard's equally strong energy and movement within an offense should also translate well in the NBA. Though I've stated that Leonard would most likely excel in a fast-paced offense (due to his length, energy, etc.), he could also use this energy to become an efficient rebounder and role player in a half-court offense.
In this year's draft, Kawhi Leonard is undeniably one of the more talented overall prospects. What should make Leonard so intriguing to many teams (including the Bobcats) is his enormous versatility and defensive potential. Few NBA players have the capacity to be a strong defender at three positions, but Leonard seems to have the potential to be one of those rare commodities. Though his offensive game remains inconsistent from the perimeter and as a shooter, Leonard has the ability to develop his offensive skills to an effective level in the NBA. If he is drafted into the right organization, one that fits his style of play and varied skill set, Kawhi Leonard could become a potent force as a player, especially defensively. On a team like the Bobcats (A team that would most likely allow him to consistently play decent minutes and develop fully as a player), Leonard could become an important cornerstone to the future of the franchise.