Kawhi Leonard was a rookie revelation for the San Antonio Spurs. It wasn't just that he was good—many of us expected as much from the lengthy, athletic rebounder coming out of San Diego State. Leonard already had flashed considerable raw talent at the college level.
The surprise was that Kawhi could suddenly shoot. In his final SDSU season, Leonard shot a mere 29.1 percent behind a much shorter three-point line. While it is not unusual for such players to develop three-point strokes later in their careers, a quick transformation wasn't really considered by fans and draft pundits alike.
The Spurs operate according to different standards, on a different timeline. By year's end, Leonard had a .376 NBA three-point average, and he went on to shoot .450 from downtown in the postseason. San Antonio finds value where other teams don't, and in this case, the Spurs created it seemingly out of thin air. The new KL jumper is fluid and on-point.
The fixed shot opens up some doors for the young player, as he can now stretch the floor for his three-pointer-oriented team. This allows Leonard to play as a small-ball 4 when San Antonio wishes to quicken the metronome. Leonard rebounds well for a small forward, so it's no sacrifice to put him at the 4 spot.
He's perfect for a trendy strategy where a long wing defends the opposing team's point guard toward the end of games (though the Spurs tried this with Danny Green against Chris Paul, instead of trying it with Leonard). To put it simply, expect to see a lot of Leonard because Leonard can do a lot.
But can versatility beget stardom? Right now, the Spurs aren't calling on Leonard to be anything more than a useful role player. This could change because San Antonio is about to enter a transition phase. The Big Three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are all past their primes. The Spurs just might be looking to ease Leonard into less of a peripheral role going forward.
While I certainly would not bet on superstardom for Leonard, I would not bet against an eventual All-Star Game. After Kevin Durant, the small forward talent pool is shallow out West. It wouldn't take a lot for Leonard to stand out amid Rudy Gay, Nicolas Batum and Danilo Gallinari.
An improved handle might just do it. Leonard mostly was a power forward in college, not often tasked with dribbling duties. At the NBA wing spot, he'll need to improve, as more plays are generated from the perimeter. Better dribbling would mean more plays like this:
With his defense, rebounding and athleticism, don't sleep on Kawhi Leonard becoming a star in three or four years. He has the potential, and he's with the kind of team that converts a man's potential into man's play.