Revisiting the Kawhi Leonard Trade One Week Later: What it Means to the Raptors and Spurs

Pounding The Rock

One week has passed since Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri sent ripples out across the NBA landscape when he traded DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poetl and a protected 2019 first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The abrupt, yet unexpected trade is one which involved both franchises moving on from their respective stars. For Toronto, they ended a long-standing relationship with a beloved, four-time All-Star, and a pillar to the organization. For San Antonio, they fought their last fight and tried everything to repair the fractured relationship they had among one of the game’s best two-way players.

Faces continuously change in the NBA today. Sometimes, a change of guard within an organization follows. As each player settles into their new team, let’s look at what the trade means to both franchises.

What it means to Toronto

The uncertainty for the Raptors lies solely on Leonard’s health. While no one knows where Leonard will be physically heading into this season, he and Danny Green have the potential to provide Toronto a different angle on both ends of the floor. When healthy, Leonard is the gold standard of defensive versatility. His combination of size and skill, also, his ability to switch and lock-down nearly all five positions on the court throughout a game, sets him apart amongst the game’s elite.

2017-18 was a lost season for Leonard, playing in only nine games due to a mysterious right quad injury. His 2015 and 2016 numbers, however, provide a clearer synopsis of his defensive impact. During that span, Leonard registered back-to-back 125-steal seasons, including finishing sixth and eighth in the league, respectively, in Defensive Wins Shares (DWS) and Defensive Rating.

On top of that, Green’s emergence on this end-of-the-floor tips the scale in Toronto’s favor defensively. Green holds a career 2.2 Defensive Box-Plus Minus (DPM), which far exceeds that of long-time Raptor DeMar DeRozan’s career of -0.9. With more wings than ever before, Toronto has a fascinating set of players to stack together five-man lineups, starting with Kyle Lowry, Leonard, Green, OG Anunoby, Jonas Valanciunas, plus a second-unit of Fred VanVleet, C.J. Miles, Delon Wright, a potentially revitalized Norman Powell, and Pascal Siakam.

Offensively, Green fits the mold of a low-usage option who can still hit threes at a reasonable rate (made 116 and 118 3’s at a 36 and 38 percent clip in the last two seasons). Although there will be times when Green’s cold streaks irritate Raptors fans, the overall package is well worth it, even if it comes in a regression year.

Further, Leonard should also become a major difference-maker on offense. While he might not reach the heights of his 2016-17 campaign, when he finished fifth in the NBA in Offensive Real Plus-Minus and ninth in points per game, Leonard’s offensive impact is still impressive. Over the years, Leonard has blossomed as an on-ball creator in both pick-and-roll and isolation settings, averaging 16 points per game to go along with a 117.6 Off. Rating and 59.7 True-Shooting Percentage in his career.

In full, the Raptors have the firepower to throw out some truly nasty defensive units that also possess enough scoring talent to threaten high-level competition in the regular season and the playoffs.

What it means to San Antonio

Despite Leonard missing 73 games this past season, the Spurs still managed to win 47 games and earn the No. 7 seed in the West. With much of San Antonio’s core intact for 2019, such as forwards LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol, plus wings Rudy Gay and Kyle Anderson, the addition of DeRozan and Poetl sets them up nicely in the short-term.

After coming off his most efficient offensive season ever at 28, there’s no doubting the impact DeRozan can make on this end of the floor. He is a capable No. 2 scoring option, operating as a high volume scorer who punishes teams through drawing fouls, and with an improved perimeter jumper, DeRozan now poses as a moderate threat from deep.

That said, DeRozan’s defensive limitations showed up mightily during the playoffs as opponents realized how aggressively they could attack him. Being in San Antonio may boost his defensive prowess a little though, considering the Spurs fielded a top-five defense essentially without Leonard all-season.

Poeltl, on the other hand, fits the modern game more than most centers. The 22-year old Austrian can switch better than most seven-footers in the league, but his limits as a shooter (has only taken five shots beyond 16 feet in his two NBA seasons, per The Athletic) underscores his low offensive ceiling.

Of course, if you can remember, center Jonas Valanciunas added threes to his shooting prowess last year for Toronto, making 30 at a 40.5 percent clip. While that shot may come eventually for Poetl, it appears unlikely that he has untapped star potential to change the direction of the franchise.

With that, San Antonio’s long-term outlook is unclear. As one of the best coaches in NBA history – Gregg Popovich – nears 70 next season, it’s reported that he’s looking toward retirement in the next few years. While the Spurs have engineered a remarkable run through excellent coaching; building a tight-knit culture intertwined with a beautiful meshing of star talent amidst capable role players, their recent decisions have eroded the talent level. The organization’s approach to pursuing aging veterans who fit the “Spurs mold” instead of building a modern team is a tactic that will take time for DeRozan, who is locked in for another three years, to adjust to, along with a raw Poetl.

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