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Kawhi Leonard and big hands

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Kawhi Leonard is now one of the youngest Finals MVPs after dominating the last 3 games of the Finals. He’s also one of the great draft steals in recent memory, with the Spurs picking him up at #15 in the 2011 draft.

The success of a player like Kawhi is a challenge to the other 29 teams in the league, or at least the ones who passed on him. Kawhi not only fell to 15 but it was a draft getting called one of the worst of all time and where teams picking in the lottery were dieing for a star talent. They passed on him for players they barely liked.

All of these teams have to look at Kawhi and ask how do we pick this player next year instead of passing. They have to re-evaluate their draft methods that led to passing on him.

Interestingly, one of Kawhi’s attributes that is getting targeted is his gigantic hands. Now, Kawhi’s big hands clearly make him better. However, it’s one piece of the larger puzzle.

First, consider that one of the biggest ways Kawhi’s big hands help him, is they make his wingspan longer. Leonard has a 7’3 wingspan, with an average PF’s being around 7’2 and average SF at around 6’11, this is a significant advantage at SF. Having a long wingspan makes a player better by extending his reach on defense and helping him deflect steals, but this is nothing new, teams have been obsessing over the length measurable for a long time including at the 2011 draft.

There are other ways big hands can help a player. Arguably it helps a player secure rebounds and dribble the ball better. However Leonard’s ballhandling remains one of his weaknesses and are not a major reason why he’s a draft steal. His rebounding is exceptional thanks to his strong hands. There was other reasons to believe Leonard was a stronger than average SF however, at the combine he measured 227 pounds, while the average SF prospect at the combine measures about 210 pounds, to an average PF’s 230. So Leonard has the length and weight of a power forward, but moves laterally like a shooting guard. Leonard’s hands may make him even stronger than his power forward-like weight suggests.

It’s not that Leonard’s hands aren’t important, it’s just there’s many things that will make a player like Leonard successful. In addition to his hand size, there’s

– How strong he is
– How long his arms are
– How well he moves laterally on defense
– Above average athleticism driving to the basket and playing in transition
– The ability to hit the 3pt and increasing ability to have offensive sets run through him
– Extremely strong basketball instincts/feel for the game
– A perfect demeanour and work ethic

In light of this, Kawhi would likely still be a major draft steal if his hand size was normal, making him slightly less long and strong, but nonetheless still stronger and longer than most SFs while being a great full court athlete with 3pt range and feel for the game. He’d still have many of the strengths that all-stars like Paul George and Luol Deng have had, who aren’t as known for their hand size.

Written by jr.

June 16, 2014 at 5:22 pm