The Toronto Raptors always wanted big man Jonas Valanciunas with the fifth overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, but small forward Kawhi Leonard was “definitely on the list” of options being considered, former general manager Bryan Colangelo told the Toronto Sun’s Ryan Wolstat on Thursday.
The news comes in the wake of Leonard’s latest major showing on the league’s biggest stage, a stunning Game 3 performance that saw the third-year forward score 29 points on 10-of-13 shooting to lead all scorers. That’s had the whole league talking about Leonard, particularly in the context of his relatively late draft selection back in 2011 (No. 15 overall).
Certainly, the idea of Leonard playing in Toronto is intriguing.
First and foremost, his presence would’ve made the Rudy Gay trade less likely, potentially changing the entire trajectory of the franchise over the past year-plus. Additionally, playing next to DeMar DeRozan would’ve given Toronto quite the wings to build around, making the Terrence Ross pick highly unlikely.
The idea that the Raptors screwed up by picking Valanciunas would be misguided, however. As good as Leonard is and could potentially be, it’s easy to see why Toronto went with the Lithuanian big man, both in retrospect and right now. Entering the 2014-15 season, few young big men will be as intriguing as Toronto’s 7-footer, who quietly was a big part of the team’s turnaround last season.
While Valanciunas isn’t starring in the Finals like Leonard in San Antonio, he’s proving to be a solid pick in his own right. During the 2013-14 season, he averaged 11.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, polished up his defense somewhat and showed durability by playing 81 games. Effective big men like Valanciunas are among the most valued talents in the league.
Still, the possibility of Leonard in Toronto leads to some interesting possibilities, and Colangelo’s comments also break down the idea that Leonard was some random prospect brought to life by the Spurs. Even in 2011, many NBA evaluators saw him as a very good, lottery-level pick, and he’s simply maximized every opportunity he’s had since then.