There are several classic blunders. One of them is "Never get involved in a land war in Asia" and another is "Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line," but the least known one is probably "Never bet against the San Antonio Spurs in the draft."
On draft night, the Spurs sent George Hill to the Pacers for Kawhi Leonard, Erazem Lorbek and the 42nd overall pick Davis Bertans. At the time, the ESPN pundits thought it was a questionable move; George Hill is a nice player and San Antonio's point guard depth was an issue (I beleive TJ Ford was not yet a Spur).
The Spurs have a long record of drafting guys that either no one has heard of at the time (Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili) or that no one thought was worth a high pick (DeJuan Blair, George Hill, Tiago Splitter). And year after year, they all turn into good (or amazing) players. And yet, this year, some us were dumb enough to question the Spurs move.
And, surprise, it turns out Kawhi Leonard, through 14 games, looks...well, ****ing amazing, actually:
Last week, before the whole Rubio vs. Irving debate, I said I thought that Leonard was just as good but that no one will vote for him. And you can see why; he doesn't have very high scoring totals. But that's because he deosn't shoot a lot. What's really remarkable about Leonard is:
- He's an amazing rebounder; so good, in fact, that Popp has actually played him at the 4 some minutes
- He rarely turns the ball over.
- He rarely fouls
- He gets a lot of steals
In other words, he seems to be the prototypical Poppovich player; a great defender who goes after the ball hard and shoots efficiently without dominating the ball. His free throw shooting is probably the only part of his game one could complain about right now.
And this brings us to another point that often gets lost: in basketball, NOT doing something can be a very important a skill. Too often, people disparage players who don't do things. It turns out, in the NBA, it's hard not to take bad shots. The defenders are fast, tall, and strong -- they're generally speaking good at forcing players to take bad shots. It's hard not to foul -- the ball handlers are quick and athletic, the post players have good moves and footwork, they're generally pretty good at drawing fouls. And it's hard not to turn the ball over: guards have fast hands, wing players are quick to jump into passing lanes, and big men bang around under the basket a lot and make it hard to hold on to the ball. Yet players who don't do these things almost never get any credit for it; instead it's usually shrugged off as if it's no big deal. But it is a big deal, otherwise all the players would hit more of their shots, and games would have fewer free throws and fewer steals and turnovers!
OK, before the usual shit-storm ensues let me say that I wouldn't really pick Leonard over Irving or Rubio if I were starting a new team (cause, you know, "potential", as much as I hate that word, is a factor, and both are very young and playing arguably the most difficult position well) , but you know we don't call it the "Player Most Likely to Be a Superstar Later" award, and Leonard is putting up a very strong case that he should be in the conversation for best rookie (even though we know he won't win it).
Or maybe I am just embarassed that Rubio decided to shoot 1-of-11 on Saturday and that Irving had 7 turnovers with only 2 assists on Sunday. Great timing, guys, thanks for that.