Kawhi Leonard has made the Rising Stars challenge once again, after participating last year. It's a well deserved honor for the hard-working San Diego State product. After this season Kawhi won't be eligible for the Rookies vs Sophomores game, so he will have to make the All-Star team if he wants to be part of the festivities. Let me just start by saying that I don't think All-Star appearances matter that much. I think that they are not usually indicative of a player's value and they mostly serve to get players overpaid. "But he was an All-Star!" people say when overvaluing guys like Mo Williams and Chris Kaman.
That being said, it's got to be a thrill for young players to get that first All-Star nod, and while the Spurs will possibly have four representatives (#letBonnershoot!) at All-Star weekend this season, the franchise hasn't traditionally benefited from the type of publicity that having a strong participation in the exhibition provides. So it would probably benefit both Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs if he got to the All-Star game sooner rather than later. But how realistic is it to expect to see Kawhi get the nod next season?
I was reading Ben Goliver's piece on who the next All-Star from the 2011 class was going to be and he mentioned Leonard as one of the most viable candidates. Here's an excerpt:
It's difficult but not impossible for perimeter players primarily known as defenders to receive All-Star recognition. Iguodala found his way to Orlando in 2012, the Pacers' Paul George was selected this season and Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum should be a candidate in coming years. George and Batum took big steps forward on offense this season, something that can be expected from Leonard once Manu Ginobili and Duncan hang it up or play even less.
The comparison to third-year budding star Paul George, who will participate in the event this season, seemed interesting. George's numbers from last season are not that different from what Leonard is putting up this year. Also, both young men made their mark right away on defense and had to develop their offensive games. Here are Paul Gorge's numbers from this season.
Here are Leonard's.
It's not impossible to see Leonard take a step up next season with Stephen Jackson potentially leaving in free agency and Manu slowing down more. Leonard doesn't have the handles yet to be neither a pick and roll ball handler nor an effective isolation slasher, but he is a very smart cutter and his 47.4% on mid range jumpers shows he could get a few extra points coming off screens if his number were called more often. His three point shooting is already very good and if he gets better in transition, with a few more minutes, it wouldn't be too hard for Leonard to see his scoring average rise into the mid-teens.
All this said, he will likely never get over 37 minutes per game, as George does. And that will probably make it very hard for him to make the cut. I can see Leonard getting numbers similar to George's on a per 36 minute basis, but without the raw stats it's very unlikely he gets selected. Every single West All-Star this season plays more than 30 a game and coaches seem to reward players that carry teams, not complimentary pieces.
Speaking of the West, the competition is simply stiffer than it is back East. No offense to Luol Deng, George or Joakim Noah, but they probably wouldn't have made the team out West. There are not a lot of positional restrictions on All-Star games but there's usually some semblance of roster balance, so it's likely Leonard will fight for a spot against Gallinari, Iguodala, Batum, Gay and Kirilenko. Depending on how Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, Chandler Parsons and Kenneth Faried develop, you can add them too. If we don't see a few of those guys switching teams and conferences soon, Kawhi will have staunch competition for an All-Star spot.
Unless he gets significantly better over the next summer, or the Spurs start featuring him more on offense, Kawhi's chances of making the All-Star team as soon as next season seem slim at best. Once some of the West's heavy-hitters like Duncan, Kobe and Dirk retire and guys like Zach Randolph and David Lee slow down, Kawhi will have his shot at competing with his contemporaries for a spot. It's OK, though. He'll be San Antonio's little secret for a while longer before the national public catches on to his talents. As for Kawhi? I think he'd like an NBA title more, and he's competing for one this season so I wouldn't worry our young small forward.
But let's ask him. How do you feel about the All-Star game, Kawhi?