San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard has spent the past two games of the NBA Finals torching the Miami Heat. Pacers fans may remember him as the player who was essentially traded for George Hill in 2011.
Now fans are wondering what if? What would have happened if the Pacers had taken Leonard instead of trading for Hill. Leonard scored 29 points a couple nights ago and another 20 last night. Defensively, he has been giving LeBron James fits and has five blocks and five steals over the past two meetings.
Hate to break it to you Pacer fans, but Indiana wasn’t ever going to take Leonard in the 2011 Draft. The Pacers didn’t need a small forward back then. But they did need a point guard, and it didn’t hurt to get a player from Indianapolis to encourage ticket sales.
Back in 2011, the Pacers had a very healthy Danny Granger who had just come off a 20 point per game season. In the strike shortened 2011-12 year, Granger averaged 18 a game. He was still leading the team in scoring and an integral part of the team’s future.
They Pacers also had Paul George fresh off his rookie season. He made a solid jump between year one and two as well. George’s rookie and sophomore season’s are nearly identical to that of Leonard’s.
There simply wasn’t room on the roster for Leonard. This also wasn’t the Pacers decision, they were told who to draft by the Spurs. Indiana never really HAD Leonard to being with.
Could the Pacers use Leonard now? Sure.
Granger is gone and his career is basically over, and Evan Turner is awful. But where would he play? Would you prefer Leonard over George? Leonard has the ability to be a starter, but he’d fight with George for minutes.
I prefer George’s upside over that of Leonard. George is taller and more versatile on defense. He has also made huge leaps in his game every single season and there doesn’t appear to be a limit to his game. George has the potential to be something akin to Kobe Bryant.
Leonard, on the other hand, might just be another very good player in coach Greg Popovich’s system. You have to ask yourself how much of his development is natural ability and how much is coaching.
Every year, Popovich seems to strike gold with a player who flew under the radar. Leonard also benefits from the unselfish brilliance of players like Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. The basketball clinic the Spurs have been putting on the past two games would likely make Turner look good.
Hindsight is 20/20. Its easy to look back now and think “man, the Pacers could have had Leonard.” But in the history of bad draft picks, the Leonard-Hill trade isn’t even a bump in the road.
The Pacers could have drafted Larry Bird or Michael Jordan. So if you really want to beat up this team over its past moves, lets go back to the 1970s and 80s and do it properly. Never forget how “great” Rick Robey or Vern Fleming were for Indiana.