Can Kawhi Leonard Be Future Franchise Star of San Antonio Spurs?

Ethan Sherwood StraussNBA Lead WriterOctober 4, 2012

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JUNE 06:   James Harden #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives on Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs in Game Six of the Western Conference Finals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on June 6, 2012 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The Thunder beat the Spurs 107-99.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
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The future of the San Antonio Spurs is inextricably linked to Kawhi Leonard. Why? Because the Spurs are old and competent. They will not be in position for a high draft pick anytime soon (thanks a lot, competence), and their main stars are nearing the end. Even if you could posit that Tony Parker is in his prime, the career of a quick point guard is shorter than other kinds of players. Old Spurs will soon be survived by young Spurs.

So the question before us is whether Leonard can become an excellent player, or merely an excellent complementary player. Last year proved that he can shoot, but his game is rough in ways that make projecting a career trajectory quite difficult. 

I would bet against Leonard as a superstar, though I believe he has All-Star potential. Though there is much to love about his game, Leonard's shaky handle prevents me from believing in him as a future dominant wing. Dribbling is a famously tough-to-augment skill. Like language acquisition, it helps to get it early. Check out this Draft Express video that features Leonard's dribbling drills:

Despite flaunting large hands, Leonard palms the rock in a stilted, exaggerated fashion. It's not the worst handle in the universe, but it's not close to the dexterity you'll see from LeBron James or Kevin Durant. The rookie Spur only turned the ball over 0.7 times per game last season, but that was partially a result of his unwillingness to put the ball on the floor.

To be clear, this is what holds Leonard back from being among the greatest players. He's still quite able to be very, very good on account of his magnificent defensive talent and dogged rebounding.

Leonard somewhat struggled to lock down smaller, quicker players, but you can chalk that up to inexperience. The Spurs like to put a wing on a point guard at the end of games, an increasingly popular strategy with many teams around the league. Going forward, Leonard should be well-suited for this role. My immense sympathy goes out to future point guards who must dribble toward KL's 7-3 wingspan. His ability to shut down playmakers will be valuable to future Spurs teams, if not next season's crew.  

Leonard's three-point shooting also will be a boon to the Spurs. Of course, it's always nice when a player can hit from deep, but Leonard can combine this with a power forward's rebounding ability. This means that San Antonio loses nothing from "going small" and playing Leonard at the 4-spot.

In Leonard, the Spurs have a wonderful talent, someone whose versatility as a 3/4 combo can help them win games and playoff series down the road. He will hit open shots, rebound and guard positions 1-4. He's an excellent player to have, but not quite "franchise" on account of lacking offensive polish.