ESPN’s Thorpe: Leonard has chance to show he’s more than a role player

Kawhi LeonardLAS VEGAS – Before the Spurs tipped off with the Atlanta Hawks, I had the privilege to be sitting next to ESPN analyst David Thorpe (we just call him Coach Thorpe).  Coach had a chance to talk about the Spurs’ Summer League roster.  He didn’t realize that Kawhi Leonard was on the Spurs Summer League squad and said he thinks it’s great opportunity for both the Spurs and Leonard.

“You don’t come to Summer League to have him fine-tune the same role he plays next to Manu and Tony and Tim,” Thorpe said. “Here, the whole point of this is to find out what else he has and a lot of teams don’t do that. They just kind of plug the player in to a hole and let them stay there forever. I think it’s smart for the Spurs to find out what they have.”

The knock on Leonard when he was drafted was that he couldn’t shoot.  By the end of the season he ability to shoot the corner three was good enough that it allowed him to use an upfake and get to the basket.  Coach Thorpe said he thinks Leonard is at the very least going to be a valuable role player and very good shooter moving forward, but added he thought Summer League was where we would start to find out where Leonard will end up as an offensive player.

“He’s gonna be a good shooter it looks like for a long, long time, a good defender, a smart IQ player, you know feel guy,  right place at the right time type of player,” Thorpe said. “If he can’t score here, it’s likely that he’s not ever going to be a scorer in the NBA. That doesn’t mean it’s not gonna happen, it just means he’s not anywhere near ready. So to me it’s an incomplete in terms of looking at him going forward.”

We also discussed the end of the Spurs season and Coach Thorpe noted that he didn’t think the Spurs season because of anything they did wrong, but that Oklahoma City figured out pretty quickly that they were a team of superior athletes and that San Antonio would have problems getting up good looks and stopping the Thunder on the other end.

“I thought that Oklahoma City did a really great job of really playing athletically after, I thought, the first half of the first game.  I thought they absolutely did, the only way to beat the Spurs I thought, was to get them out of their surgical plan and the way to do that was to out athlete them and out energy them,” Thorpe said. “And I thought that was not going to happen for a couple of games and it just took one half of one game for them to figure it out.  I’ve always thought that was the one area the Spurs were kind of missing something but to get more athletic means you’re giving up the surgical aspect and they are the smartest team in the league in terms of how they execute offensively.”

I was surprised to learn that Coach Thorpe, who is works with young players in Orlando, also worked with Spurs draftee Ryan Richards when he was 17.  Thorpe told me Richards was incredibly soft and wasn’t prepared to get beat up down low like he did.  He added that you could see the skill in the potential, but that he just wasn’t ready.  Before you freak out that was over three years ago and Richards has grown as a player since then.

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