Kawhi Leonard Could Have Been Final Piece of Pacers Puzzle

Kawhi Leonard, the breakout star of the 2014 NBA Finals, was originally taken in the 15th round by the Indiana Pacers in the 2011 draft. Pacers Team President Larry Bird drafted the San Diego State star forward as a potential key piece in building what would become a strong contender in the “Big Three” Heat-ruled eastern conference. Then, on draft day, Bird traded Leonard to San Antonio as part of a multi-player deal with the centerpiece for the Pacers being PG George Hill, an Indianapolis native. Since the draft, the two players paths have gone in very different directions.

After a stellar start to the 2013-14 NBA season, the Indiana Pacers slipped from dominance to a series of question marks, most hanging over Hill’s inability to run the offense. In San Antonio, Kawhi Leonard broke out as a bonafide superstar, leading his team to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances and on the cusp of another World Championship — Leonard’s first. Pacers fans are left to wonder what could have been had the Pacers held on to Leonard in June of 2011.

The stats speak volumes as Leonard started 65 games this past season and averaged a field goal percentage of.522, and 12.5 PPG/2.0 APG/6.2 RPG, while Hill struggled with only 10.3 PPG and a field goal percentage of.442. What the stats don’t show is the on-court leadership that Kawhi Leonard brings to the Spurs. He lets his game do the talking, preferring to remain in the background while the Spurs stars, like Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, handle the sometimes-intense NBA Finals media pressure.

In the Finals, Leonard has taken complete control, dominating the position in Game 3 with 29 points, and his stat line in Game 4 read 20 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, three blocks, and three steals, leading the Spurs to a commanding 3-1 series lead over the defending champion Miami Heat heading into Game 5.

With the Indiana Pacers fizzling out against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, could Kawhi Leonard have changed the landscape of the series? Indiana is now home, looking at ways to upgrade the point guard position, and Leonard looks to be ready to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy with his teammates. Pacers fans who are still watching the Finals are stung by what could have been each time Leonard touches the ball.

Revisionist history means nothing in sports. Just look at Babe Ruth as a Red Sox Pitcher, as an example. But when a player with the caliber of talent of a Kawhi Leonard slips from your team, fans can only wonder where the team would be today if Leonard was wearing the Blue and Gold. And just like Babe Ruth pitching the Red Sox into a world series’ title, we will never know.

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