Don't have an account?
Join the Best Live Fantasy Chat Community!

Lost password? [X]

Receive free daily analysis:


Already have an account? Log in here.


Forgot Password


Can We Trust Kawhi Leonard in Fantasy?

It's hard not to lay out an argument either for or against Kawhi Leonard in any scenario, real or fantasy, without mentioning trust. It's the foundation upon which teamwork and chemistry are built. It's essential in a game where five men work together on the court in order to achieve a common goal. It's crucial for a player that wants to be considered a superstar and is looking for a max contract in a big market city, as well as looking to grow his own brand.

Trust was completely broken in San Antonio after Leonard sat almost the entire season despite being cleared by the Spurs' training staff in late February. He was then unceremoniously shipped to Toronto, where it was then reported he did not want to play. Although he's shown up, smiled for the cameras (sort of), and looked fine in his first preseason game, can the Raptors trust that he'll give them 100% all season while biding time to move to L.A. in 2019?

For fantasy purposes, we have a lot less invested in Leonard than the Raptors or any of his potential suitors do, but a first-round pick can make or break your team. With relatively safe plays like Paul George, Damian Lillard, and Chris Paul available at the turn of most fantasy basketball drafts, is it safe to take a chance on Kawhi Leonard as a top-15 pick?

Editor's Note: Our friends at Monkey Knife Fight have the best, most fun, fastest growing DFS props game! It's super simple to play and to win real money. Just choose your NBA, NHL or PGA game, and make your picks! Get a 100% instant deposit bonus up to $50 using promo code: BALLER. That's $50 for free - don't miss out! Play Now!


Undeniable Talent

By a measure of pure talent alone, the easy answer is yes. In the 2016-17 season, before the injuries and all the drama, Leonard was a top-10 fantasy player. His 48.5% field goal percentage was 14th-best among small forwards with at least 100 attempts and fifth-best at shooting guard, where he also qualifies. He was 18th in defensive rebounding among small forwards and sixth at shooting guard. In terms of blocks, he finished 10th at SF, third at SG. His 133 steals were tied with Russell Westbrook for seventh among all NBA players. Then there's the fact he finished fourth in points scored. You get the idea - he's good at basketball in every way.

Leonard should be a no-brainer in the first round as someone who can contribute in every roto counting category at a high level without sacrificing percentages. For god's sake, he even shot 88% from the free throw line that year. But two issues obviously remain: a new team environment and a questionable expectation of playing time based on health and character issues.


The Raptor Way?

Leonard is swapping place with fan favorite and former face of the franchise, DeMar DeRozan. They are not quite the same type of player but that's what both teams had in mind when making this blockbuster deal. The Spurs were looking for a quiet, unassuming All-Star to fit alongside LaMarcus Aldridge while ridding themselves of the Kawhi headache. The Raptors, meanwhile, needed to shake up a team that couldn't get over the hump despite regular season success and wanted to find a player who can perform at his very best in the playoffs. It would seem both got what they needed.

DeRozan, who has never been one to seek media attention the way many NBA stars do, should acclimate to Coach Pop's system rather easily in his workmanlike way once he adjusts to being outside the only team he's ever known. Leonard brings a Finals MVP award along with 87 games of playoff experience to the table. His Playoffs per game scoring average over his last three postseason appearances climbed from 20.3 to 22.5 to 27.7. DeRozan, by contrast, had seemingly plateaued by averaging 20.9, 22.4 then 22.7. DeRozan saw his minutes drop this past postseason while his FG% stayed at 43.7%. Leonard shot 53.8% from the field in the 16-17 playoffs, all while playing superior defense. It's clear that Toronto got the better talent of the two, so shouldn't it be easy to ascertain that fantasy owners should make Leonard a priority selection?

While Leonard has been growing each season as a player, he now must assimilate into a new system and a different culture. The Raptors hired assistant Nick Nurse to be the new head coach after firing Dwane Casey days after their postseason sweep in Cleveland. There is no way to have a full grasp of how the team will operate under a first-year coach, but Nurse was credited for opening up the offense and incorporating more outside shooting while under Casey, with a bigger focus on the three-point shot. The Raptors took the third-most three-pointers per game last year at 33, all the way up from 22nd in the league at 24.3 per game in 2016-17. Leonard had seen his 3PA rise up to 5.2 per game in 16-17, marking a career-high and surpassing DeRozan. We might expect this level to sustain itself in a less conservative offense than San Antonio, meaning a slight uptick is possible in the three-point categories.

In terms of shooting and scoring overall, there's little doubt the Raptors will run the offense through Leonard. He took an average of 17.7 shots per game in his last full season, scoring 25.5 points. DeRozan had an identical total last season at 17.7 shots each night, but only scored 23 points per game. The reason is that he posted an effective field goal percentage of 48.8% while Leonard's eFG was 54.1%. It stands to reason Leonard will see no downturn in the offensive categories. One slight concern might be that he will be used less often as a point-forward to bring the ball downcourt as he did in San Antonio. Coach Popovich has used many players in this role, including Manu Ginobili and Kyle Anderson. This is a non-issue, however, since Leonard averages 2.3 assists for his career and was used simply as a ball-carrier rather than a passer. As long as Leonard is healthy, his rebounding, shot-blocking, stealing and defensive prowess should remain the same as well.


The Caveat

All told, Leonard should have no problem at least replicating, if not exceeding, the All-Star level he exhibited when he played with the Spurs. Toronto posted the second-highest Adjusted Offensive Rating of all teams at 114.5, behind only Houston. San Antonio was 17th last year but finished second in 2016-17 when Leonard played 74 games. The Raptors were sixth that year. It's obvious how big of an impact he has. Leonard just turned 27 years old and with just six full seasons under his belt (and plenty of rest last year), he should be in prime form. This absolutely makes him a first-round pick in fantasy leagues. Now, here's the caveat.

It's never been admitted and possibly never will, but Leonard could and should have played through the latter part of the 2017-18 season and joined his team for the playoffs. He chose not to. Even the most ardent Kawhi fan couldn't tell you with a straight face that he was so injured that he was incapable of playing until the moment he was traded this offseason. As we've seen with him and now again with Le'Veon Bell in the NFL, as well as certain NCAA football players foregoing bowl games in order to preserve their bodies for big contracts, cash rules everything. If Leonard feels the slightest tweak or believes he is not getting enough rest, or simply wants to sit out part of the season with an "undisclosed injury" in order to make sure he's 100% ready to pass his physical for the Clippers, Lakers, or whoever his uncle insists should sign him, it will happen. The stats will be there, the impact will be felt, but for how many games? Much like Joel Embiid, a part-time All Star is great when he's on the court, but at that price point, you may prefer 70+ games of slightly less talent in order to ensure a more successful squad. If you trust Leonard more than I do and throw caution to the wind, by all means make him a first-round pick. If you read the warning signs and understand that he may not be fully invested in playing this season out for a team he never wanted to join, you may want to pass for now and let someone else inherit that risk.

More Fantasy Basketball Analysis

More Recent Articles


Waiver Wire Express - Week 15 Lightning Round

An injury-laden Week 14 decided many matchups, with several big names going down in a Red Wedding-esque affair. Not only was Josh Jacobs was a late inactive, but Jared Cook, Devante Parker, Albert Wilson all left with concussions, Mike Evans pulled up with a hamstring injury, Calvin Ridley and Ryan Griffin hurt their ankles, Derrius... Read More

Fantasy Football News and Injuries - Running Updates

Below is a quick-hit list of running notes on relevant injuries and player news, including pre-game reports and live in-game updates. Stay tuned for updates all throughout the week and on Sunday morning game day:   Week 14 Josh Jacobs (shoulder) has officially been ruled out. Jared Cook has been ruled out of the game after... Read More

Week 14 Chat - Live Fantasy Football Game Day Q&A

It's Sunday Morning Week 14... Do You Know Who to Start? Each Sunday morning of the NFL season, RotoBaller's experts will be moderating the industry's leading live chat room and answering a bunch of your fantasy football questions, from around 10:30 AM to 1:00 PM ET. Come join in on the fun, and get your... Read More

Updated Week 14 PPR Rankings (Top 300)

Welcome to Week 14 RotoBallers. Below are our updated consensus Week 14 PPR rankings for fantasy football, including some running notes on relevant injuries, player news and rankings updates: Josh Jacobs (shoulder) has officially been ruled out. Will Fuller (hamstring) is expected to miss Week 14. Adam Thielen (hamstring) has officially been ruled out. Le'Veon Bell... Read More

Fantasy Football Mailbag - Q&A for Week 14

This article's content may vary week-to-week, but generally, it will be answering questions fielded from either the @RotoBallerNFL twitter account or my personal one (@RotoSurgeon). This week, the focus is on start/sit questions, and there were plenty. Every week, many of us struggle with which quarterback to start, or who to flex, and I am... Read More

Fantasy Football Starts and Sits: Matchups Analysis for Week 14

Welcome to our Week 14 matchup analysis and start/sit column for fantasy football. We'll be covering every single contest from the Sunday slate in one convenient location, helping you make the best decisions for your fantasy lineups. Be sure to check back regularly because this article will be updated as news comes in regarding injuries and other... Read More

Monday Night Fantasy Football Starts/Sits - Week 14

Finally, we had a good fantasy matchup last week. And now, as punishment, we get this. The Eagles against the Giants is a good rivalry game. But for fantasy? Not so much. Even key players Saquon Barkley and Carson Wentz have been severely disappointing in 2019. The game is not going to be something to... Read More

Wide Receiver Matchups To Target In Week 14

In Week 13, Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill were the high-end options that had great matchups. Adams had a huge two-touchdown game while Hill only came up with 55 scoreless yards, falling victim to game flow as the Chiefs led from start to finish, scoring a defensive touchdown in the process. Several of the wide receivers... Read More

Week 14 Fantasy Football Staff Rankings

Below you will find all of RotoBaller's fantasy football weekly rankings, tiers, player news and stats for the 2019 NFL season. Our Ranking Wizard displays our staff's rankings for various league formats, all in one easy place. Here's what you'll find: Weekly PPR Rankings Weekly Half-PPR Rankings Weekly Standard Rankings Dynasty League Rankings     Fantasy... Read More

Week 14-16 Playoff Defense (DEF) Streamers and Starts - 2019 Fantasy Tiers, Rankings

The playoffs are here, and that means we're going to do things a little differently. I want to take a look at the playoffs as a whole (and in this case we are considering Weeks 14-16) and determine which DSTs you can ride all the way through and which ones you should stream this week.... Read More

Key Starters and Tough Calls - Lineup Spotlights for Week 14

Welcome to Week 14, RotoBallers! Below you will find some of my spotlight plays and tough lineup decisions for the upcoming week of the fantasy football playoffs. These player selections are based on my Premium Weekly Lineup Rankings, available as part of the RotoBaller's NFL Premium Pass. Enter promo code KING at checkout for a... Read More

NFL Survivor Pool Picks (Week 14) - Targets and Avoids

If there were a dozen people left in a survivor pool this past week, odds are those pools are down to just several. The upsets began Thursday when the Bills beat the Cowboys, and continued Sunday when the Dolphins and Redskins won as 10-point underdogs. If you're somehow still alive in your pool with just... Read More

Week 14 Stream Team - Free Agent and Bye-Week Streamers

Now that the playoffs are beginning in most leagues and the final march for a championship has begun, streaming becomes a  necessary strategy. Knowing who to add and when to start them could be the ultimate difference-maker in a weekly matchup. Making the right streaming decisions could easily be the difference in winning a championship.... Read More

Fantasy Football Playoff RB Handcuffs: Add Them Now!

The fantasy football postseason has begun, so it’s time to re-evaluate your depth, especially at running back. With only three weeks left on most fantasy scoreboards and each matchup possibly being your last, there is no more time for stashing players for potential contributions later. You also cannot waste roster space on guys who will... Read More

Fleaflicker's Most Added and Dropped: Week 14

Week 13 just served to remind us all that anything can happen in the National Football League and that you can't ever look past the New York Jets when you're trying to lose. The Cincinnati Bengals learned that lesson on Sunday, beating the Jets handily in a game that wasn't even as close as the... Read More