TrueHoop Network Mock Draft Pick 7: Kings select Kawhi Leonard

The 2011 ESPN TrueHoop Network NBA Mock Draft is here and I’m more than glad to represent the Kings with the seventh pick. Each selection will be made available on network sites, will cover just the first round, and will be made according to prediction, not some blogger preference. Enjoy.

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#1 — Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers — Cavs The Blog
#2 – Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves – A Wolf Among Wolves
#3 – Brandon Knight, Utah Jazz – Salt City Hoops
#4 – Jonas Valanciunas, Cleveland Cavaliers – Cavs The Blog
#5 – Kemba Walker, Toronto Raptors – Raptors Republic
#6 – Enes Kanter, Washington Wizards – Truth About It

With the 7th pick in the 2011 TrueHoop Network Mock Draft, the Sacramento Kings select Kawhi Leonard from San Diego State University.

There are two pressing needs with the Sacramento Kings. They need a backcourt mate to pair with the Reke-Thornton combination and they need someone who can play some stellar, asphyxiation–inducing defense. The three most likely candidates to fill one of these needs are Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette and Kawhi Leonard. With Kemba off the board to Toronto in this scenario, we’re left with Jimmer against Kawhi – just like we saw in the Mountain West Conference last season.

With Jimmer, the Kings would be getting a very versatile option in the backcourt. You could play him with Tyreke as the lead guard. Reke would get to initiate the offense like he loves/needs to do. You could surround him with scorers and shooters like Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette, and really spread the floor to flummox the defense. We could see a bigger version of the three-guard lineup the Mavericks employed with such great success this season.

Or you could play Jimmer at the point, Thornton at the 2-guard and run Reke at the small forward. You could have Jimmer running an actual offense with movement from the wings and a high-low post presence with Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins. Having Jimmer come off of pick-and-rolls or pick-and-pops could give him the step he needs to throw the defense off their balancing board. He’d then have the option to score for himself or suck the defense in and find a teammate.

It doesn’t mean you’d have to start all three players together. It also doesn’t mean that Jimmer would be a star in the making. It would just give the Kings a lot of offensive options and versatility to work with as they try to improve their 25th ranked offense last season.

Instead of going with Jimmer, I think the Kings will end up with Kawhi Leonard if he’s still on the board at seven.

Kawhi is one of those utility players. There is nothing particularly awe-inspiring about his game, unless you’re looking at the bear claws he has been given where a normal human’s hands would be. He has an improbably long wingspan and is decently gifted athletically. I would be shocked if Kawhi ever averaged more than 15 points per game in a season or acted as anything other than the fourth option on a very good team.

So why pick Kawhi over Jimmer?

Because he’s going to exhaust every ounce of being he has when he’s on the basketball court.

That’s not to say that Jimmer won’t; it’s just that Kawhi’s defensive and rebounding potential is a must-have for a team with such inconsistent options at the small forward position. Omri Casspi has a lot of potential on the offensive end of the floor, but for whatever reason, fair or unfair, he hasn’t been able to secure consistent minutes with Westphal at the helm. And Donté Greene has been… well… we probably shouldn’t get into that right now.

Kawhi Leonard would give them the chance for stability at the position. He would also give them a perimeter defender with the capability of being an option on offense. There would be no more use for the Antoine Wrights and Ime Udokas of the world. Instead, you’d have a better defender with an improving jump shot and the ability to get hustle and opportunistic scores on offense.

In fact, you can almost think of him as a shorter version of Shawn Marion. He’s not the explosive athlete that Marion was in his prime, but then again, most players aren’t. Leonard is a more grounded defender who is less likely to go for pump fakes and more likely to make the scoring chance for his opponent extremely difficult. Where he and Marion are most similar is the way they attack the glass.

Leonard was one of the few college players this season to average double-digit rebounds per game. While he didn’t test off the charts at the draft combine, don’t let that fool you into thinking Leonard isn’t a very good athlete. His timing on rebounds and his ability to jump quickly to it out of a boxing out position are as important as his suction cup hands. No, the Kings don’t need a ton of rebounding help, but it never hurts to have more at your disposal.

Leonard is probably more of a safe pick here than Kings fans are used to Geoff Petrie taking. But it’s hard to pass up a guy who could be a superstar among role players.

The Detroit Pistons are now on the clock.

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