Jun 12, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) drives around a fallen Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) during the third quarter of game four of the 2014 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Pacers Wouldn't Have Taken Kawhi Leonard Anyway


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.

Popovich is one of the best NBA coaches of all-time. He is on the Mount Rushmore of coaching along with Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, and Red Auerbach.

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.

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Tags: Danny Granger George Hill Greg Popovich Indiana Pacers Kawhi Leonard Larry Bird Michael Jordan Paul George San Antonio Spurs

  • Josh Baker

    I clicked on your link assuming you had some sort of info that the Pacers wouldn’t have taken Kawhi. I have no inclination that they would have, but to say that they definitely wouldn’t is equally as wrong. Larry Bird has been known to make some zigs in the draft and easily could have went for the best available player.

  • David Mayor

    “You have to ask yourself how much of his development is natural ability and how much is coaching.” If you have to ask yourself that, then maybe you should do a bit more research on kawhi leonard before saying he might just good because of coach pops system. Kawhi was a double double machine in college, he was known for his rebounding and defensive abilities, which is why the spurs traded beloved george hill for him so I would say it was kawhis natural abilities not anything in pops system. Paul georges ceiling also isnt that much higher then kawhis either if at all. Paul george may have a edge in passing but he isnt a better rebounder or defender, some have argued (even pacers fans) that kawhi actually has the edge in defense. When comparing the 2 you have to factor in a few things. 1. kawhi is a year younger then george 2. george averages more mins a game 37mins to kawhi 29-30mins a game. 3. The pacers actually run their offense through george so he gets more shots while kawhi plays in a pass first offense. Kawhi was a horrendous shooter coming out of college and has improved dramatically, he can post up, shoot off the dribble, trasition 3s, spot up 3s, turnaround jumpers,drive to the basket, cut to the basket and finishes well, run the fastbreak etc and has elite defense aswell, he has no limits to his game. paul george simply has had the opportunity to showcase his skills more with the pacers , then kawhi with the spurs but kawhi has achieved quite a bit in his career so far, a championship and finals mvp. Both are great players but they both have room for improvement, george has shown to be inconsistent, he can get hot and score 25-30pts one night then shoot horrible 4-21 another night, kawhi has to improve on his ball handling.

    “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.” This is also inaccurate aswell. Kawhi actually set the tome in game 3 with his aggressiveness tenacious defense and making shots weather they contested or not he just kept draining them . Dejuan blair, richard jefferson, gary neal, stephan jackson, even shannon brown played for the spurs at one point and all never showed the type of consistency as kawhi has which is why those guys are gone and kawhi took on a bigger role and the spurs actually became better. Look at kawhis stats from games 6-7 in 2013 finals, gm6 22pts-11rebs, gm7 19pts-16rebs those are incredible numbers for a 21yr old in his very first finals, he was the only consistent player on the spurs those games along side tim duncan. Manu, green, parker, neal, blair, splitter, were MIA and those 2 carried the team, manu even admitted to that. His stats from games 3-5 in the 2014 finals are even more impressive and shows he can be consistent when counted upon. Leonard isnt the only one who benefits from unselfish brilliance, the whole team does including manu, parker and duncan who Ive seen benefit off of kawhis unselfishness aswell plus benefited on the defensive side aswell, they rely on him heavily to guard the other teams best player everynight that takes a load off guys like parker who have a hard time with players like westbrook who kawhi had to guard after he torched parker for 40 pts in the wcf and that was after he had to guard durant hes just as versatile on defense as paul george , and games during the regular season when the “big 3″ sat out and they ran the offense through kawhi he was very impressive and put up impressive stats and they actually won those games. Not anyone can look good on the spurs even with pop, some will occasionally but consistency is the key and thats what kept the spurs contenders for so long. Duncan, Ginobili, parker and Leonard are great individual players that play within the system and sacrifice individual stats for the betterment of the team, thats how you win championships, I highly doubt the pacers ever get to that level with george being “the man” there unless he shows any kind of consistency, george more resembles t-mac or vince carter not really kobe. Pop is one of the greatest coaches of all time and he has mentioned that kawhi will be a star so that should say alot, and that next season he and the rest of the coaching staff will make more of an effort to run the offense through leonard, hes gotten pops trust now.