Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard doing better than his ’11 Draft classmates

June 16, 2014 – 2:15 am by Hickey

kawhi

Sage veterans Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have been the heart of San Antonio’s championship dynasty, but it was young gun Kawhi Leonard who helped the Spurs push through for the franchise’s fifth NBA title. The third-year player from San Diego State averaged 17.8 points per game on 61 percent shooting from the field in the title series.

It’s quite the feel-good story. At 22, Leonard is the youngest Finals MVP since Duncan in 1999. He’s also just the sixth Finals MVP who didn’t make the All-Star Game the year he won the award. Chauncey Billups was the last player to earn that distinction in 2004. And it was a stirring bounce-back from last year’s Finals, when Leonard’s missed free throw in the waning moments of Game 6 helped set up Ray Allen’s game-tying three that sent the game into overtime. The Heat won that game and the next to seemingly put a fork in San Antonio’s last great chance at a title.

So who was picked ahead of Leonard in the 2011 NBA Draft? We’re glad you asked, though most of the guys on this list probably wish you wouldn’t have.

Top pick Kyrie Irving is still the most talented player in the group, but save for a few exceptions the drop-off between him and 15th pick Leonard is pretty extraordinary.

No. 2: Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves

How’s that goin’?
Williams made the All-Rookie Second Team, but 11 games into this season the Timberpups already gave up on him, trading him to Sacramento for Luc Mbah a Moute. He’s still young enough to be salvaged, but it’s not looking good.

No. 3: Enes Kanter, Utah Jazz

How’s that goin’?
Kanter is on the opposite track of Williams, with his career starting to come together after two rough seasons. He averaged a decent 12.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this year. Not Top 3 pick numbers just yet, but at least he finally seems to be getting the hang of the NBA.

No. 4: Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers

How’s that goin’?
How many damn top five picks has this team gotten in the last three years anyway? Thompson was on the All-Rookie second team like Williams, but had a brutal second season in which 15 percent of his shots were blocked. That prompted Thompson to switch shooting hands from his left to right before this season.

No. 5: Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors

How’s that goin’?
The Lithuanian’s performance in Toronto’s seven-game first-round series against the Nets portends there are good things to come. He averaged 10.9 points and 9.7 rebounds a game, including a 17-point, 18-rebound effort in Game 1.

No. 6: Jan Vesely, Washington Wizards

How’s that goin’?
What’s the Czech version of LOL?

No. 7: Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte Bobcats

How’s that goin’?
So far the defining moment of Biyombo’s career came when he blocked Rudy Gay’s shot during Charlotte’s record-settingly abysmal 2011-12 season.

“This is my house!” Biyombo thundered.

Gay’s response?

“This is everyone’s house.”

No. 8: Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons

How’s that goin’?

 

No. 9: Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats

How’s that goin’?
OK, so nobody can ever say anything bad about Kemba Walker after he single-handily carried UConn through the Big East and NCAA tournaments in 2011. And he is starting to look like a potential future All-Star, at least if he stays in the Eastern Conference. Walker averaged 17.7 points and 6.1 assists per game in helping the Bobcats to the playoffs this year.

No. 10: Jimmer Fredette, Sacramento Kings

How’s that goin’?
When Jabari Parker is drafted, Fredette’s hopes of at least being the best Mormon player in the NBA will be gone too. Plain and simple, he sucks, as evidenced in the 32 points he scored while playing in eight games for the Bulls after being dumped by the Kings this season.

No. 11: Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

How’s that goin’?
Easily the best player selected between Irving and Leonard. Thompson and Steph Curry are the most entertaining backcourt combo in the NBA. Thompson averaged 18.4 ppg while hitting 41 percent of his 3-point attempts this season.

No. 12: Alec Burks, Utah Jazz

How’s that goin’?
I really liked this pick at the time. After all, the last guy to make Colorado basketball relevant, Chauncey Billups, turned out to be a pretty good choice. Alas, he has started only 12 games in his first three seasons for a really shitty Jazz squad.

No. 13: Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns

How’s that goin’?
Another guy who struggled for two years before finally showing a glimmer of hope this season. Moved to the bench, he was highly productive as Phoenix’s sixth man this year, averaging 13.8 points and 26 minutes per game.

No. 14: Marcus Morris, Houston Rockets

How’s that goin’?
Maybe the Rockets got confused by which twin they were drafting? Morris was sent to the D-League halfway through his rookie year, then traded to Phoenix to play with his brother for a 2013 second-round pick. Not exactly a solid return on investment.

That brings us to Leonard, who was actually drafted by the Pacers before being dealt to the Spurs for George Hill. Seemed like a good idea for Indiana to bring the hometown boy back to Indy.

Hill’s numbers against Miami make it pretty clear who won that deal. The Pacers point guard averaged 11.5 points, 1.8 assists and 1.5 turnovers per game in Indiana’s 6-game conference finals exit.

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