Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Enough about LeBron James. Yes, the guy is the best player in the world today and now has two NBA titles to go with his four MVPs, but fantasy owners know all about his greatness.
Let's talk about another player who emerged in these playoffs and specifically the NBA Finals as the next fantasy star: San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard.
In 21 playoff games, Leonard, who is just 21 years old, averaged 37 minutes, 13.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 blocks, 1.8 steals, 1.1 threes and just 1.1 turnovers per game while shooting 54.5 percent from the field.
In the finals versus the Miami Heat, he finished with 14.6 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.0 turnovers per game in a losing effort. He likely would have been named MVP if the Spurs pulled out Game 7.
Leonard only averaged 7.9 points in 24 minutes as a rookie in 2011-12, so he was drafted at an ADP of 133.3 in Yahoo! leagues this season. He far outperformed that ADP, turning in averages of 11.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.6 blocks, 1.7 steals, 1.1 threes, 1.1 turnovers and .494/.374/.825 shooting splits.
Those numbers don't exactly jump off the page, but Leonard was extremely fantasy friendly due to his eight-category production. When using his compiled totals, which came in just 58 games, Leonard ranked as the No. 64 player. When going by averages, however, Yahoo! ranked Leonard 24th overall.
Leonard's health will be the only thing fantasy owners need to worry about next season. He dealt with right knee and quad tendinitis for most of the 2012-13 season, which explains why he missed 24 games. The Spurs don't take many chances, even with minor injuries, so if Leonard gets banged up again the team won't hesitate to sit him down for as long as it takes for him to heal.
But San Antonio is committed to Leonard as the next star of the organization, especially with Manu Ginobili's retirement entirely possible.
According to the San Antonio Express-News, the team released Stephen Jackson shortly before the postseason mainly because Leonard's growth and development this season made it imperative that he receive more minutes in the playoffs.
After the Spurs lost Game 7 Thursday night, coach Gregg Popovich gave this glowing review of Leonard, according to USA Today: "I just talked to Kawhi and told him he was absolutely amazing," Popovich said. "Nobody expected him at this young age to play the way he has through the whole playoffs. He really is a star in the making. He's just beginning to feel what he has. He's like a little baby learning how to walk, as far as NBA basketball is concerned. He (could be) a senior in college this year, and he's come so far, and a lot of that credit goes to (Spurs assistant coaches) Chip Engelland and Chad Forcier what they've done in developing him."
Leonard is all but guaranteed to get more than the 31 minutes he averaged this season, and an increase in playing time could also come with more offensive responsibilities.
Fantasy owners should consider his per-36-minutes numbers -- 13.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.6 blocks, 1.3 threes, 1.2 turnovers -- the absolute floor for Leonard next season, even if the swingman doesn't improve on his two glaring weaknesses offensively: scoring in the paint outside of the restricted area and shooting non-corner threes.
In his career, he has made just 39.2 percent (38-of-97) of his shots in the paint outside the restricted area, and just 25.2 percent (26-of-103) of his non-corner 3-pointers.
On corner threes, which are nearly two feet shorter than the 3-point line above the break, Leonard has made 65-of-141 (.461) in his career.
If he can improve either of his weaknesses this summer, we could see his stats jump even more than expected.
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