NBA

How Kawhi Leonard Overcame an Average NBA Combine to Become a Superstar

When Kawhi Leonard fell all the way to the No. 15 pick in the 2011 NBA draft, it could have been due to his underwhelming measurables at the combine. Leonard has grown into one of the game’s all-time greats despite his draft stock. Let’s take a look at how an average combine can become a blessing in disguise for an NBA player. 

Kawhi Leonard’s combine results

Kawhi Leonard put up middling numbers at the NBA pre-draft combine that hardly foretold of the greatness to come.
Kawhi Leonard put up middling numbers at the NBA draft combine that hardly foretold of the greatness to come.| Harry How/Getty Images

Kawhi Leonard’s measurables at the NBA draft combine were anything but memorable:

  • Height: 6-foot-7 with shoes, 6-6 without shoes
  • Weight: 227 lbs
  • Wingspan: 7-3
  • Hand width: 11.3 inches

As you can tell by these numbers, Leonard looked like your prototypical small forward prospect. Nothing really stands out as being exceptional, as there were other players in his range for every measurable area. 

The only significant physical attribute Leonard possesses over other players is his hand size. Underwhelming numbers led to his slide, and the Spurs traded for Leonard on draft night after the Pacers drafted him.

Playing for Gregg Popovich

When the Spurs traded George Hill to Indiana, it showed how valuable a piece Leonard could be for the team. Tim Duncan was in the twilight of his career, and with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili getting up there in age, the team needed a young player to add to the system.

Leonard quickly became an integral part of the offense, averaging eight points, five rebounds and one steal per game. He would improve with each season, ultimately becoming a face of the franchise, known for his amazing defense.

Defensive effort

As Leonard’s game matured, his defensive abilities seemed to reach new heights. There was no better showcase than the 2014 NBA Finals against the LeBron James led Miami Heat. In one moment during the series, you could see James visible frustration at Leonard getting substituted back into the game. 

There is no higher level of respect than the game’s best player showing anger at your presence on the court. Leonard became the best perimeter defender in the league. He won two NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards, while being named to the All-Defensive team five times during his career.

Winning in Toronto

With the Spurs and Leonard at a crossroads, the team traded him to Toronto for DeMar DeRozan. That was viewed as a very risky move for the Raptors, as Leonard was coming off of just nine games in the 2017-18 season due to a lingering quad issue.

The gamble paid off as the team was able to land the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. A series-clinching buzzer-beater in Game 7 of the semifinals against the 76ers solidified Leonard’s status as one of the games most clutch players.

After taking care of the Milwaukee Bucks who were the No. 1 seed, Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors’ suffocating defense thwarted the Warriors’ potential three-peat attempt. Leonard would go on to win his second NBA Finals MVP award and would head home to L.A. after the season.

Heading to Los Angeles

When Kawhi left the Raptors, there was a lot of speculation about where he would end up. He decided that the Los Angeles Clippers were the best fit for him after the team was able to secure a trade for Paul George. This gives Leonard the incredible opportunity few superstars get to see, the chance to win an NBA Finals MVP award with a third franchise. 

Leonard’s lack of explosive numbers at the combine got him to the point he is at today, and we are excited to see how good he will be in a Clippers uniform.