Report: Phoenix Suns Weren’t Interested In Kawhi Leonard In 2011 NBA Draft

Dec 18, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) against Phoenix Suns forward Marcus Morris (15) at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 18, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) against Phoenix Suns forward Marcus Morris (15) at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

In a pretty stacked 2011 NBA Draft, the Phoenix Suns had the 13th overall pick and a chance to help strengthen the rebuilding process in the wake of Amar’e Stoudemire‘s departure the summer before. With that late lottery pick, general manager Lance Blanks selected Markieff Morris out of Kansas.

Two picks later, the Indiana Pacers selected Kawhi Leonard for the San Antonio Spurs, who were trading fan favorite George Hill in order to obtain a top-10-caliber pick who shouldn’t have even been on the board at that point.

Four years later, Leonard is an NBA Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. Despite the strides he made on offense in the past season, Markieff Morris is barely a starting-caliber player who was recently charged with a felony aggravated assault.

Adding to the sting of looking back on 2011 is a report from the Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro that states Kawhi Leonard wasn’t even on Phoenix’s draft board.

Per Coro:

"“But with a front office conducting its first draft in Phoenix, then-General Manager Lance Blanks’ staff did not have Leonard in the discussion. Part of the Suns’ knock on Leonard, beyond his perimeter shot, was how nervously he acted in a draft combine interview, when he sweated through his suit.”"

Ahh, yes. The old “let’s not draft a talented 19-year-old with a 7’3″ wingspan because he’s not good in interviews.” Wait, what?

In the Suns’ defense, the team was plenty stocked at the small forward position at the time, with Grant Hill, Jared Dudley and Josh Childress already on board. Keef was also an admittedly safe basketball choice at the time, even if the Morris twins had been linked to a 2009 fight between the Kansas basketball team and Kansas football team (a sign of things to come?).

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The Suns weren’t the only team to whiff on Kawhi Leonard, and as is always the case in NBA Drafts, hindsight is 20-20. No front office is perfect when it comes to nailing draft picks; at some point, you’re as bound to nail one as you are to completely screw one up.

But none of Phoenix’s small forwards lasted past the next couple of seasons and for all of Keef’s on-court improvements, he still has a long way to go as a starting power forward who’s often overmatched in the post and on the glass.

The Suns’ top options in the 2011 NBA Draft, according to Coro, were Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris and Iman Shumpert, and there was more discussion about drafting Jimmer Fredette than there was about Leonard. Some Suns scouts liked Nikola Vucevic, but Blanks wasn’t a fan of European players.

Leonard, meanwhile, has evolved into the closest thing the NBA has seen on the perimeter since the days of Scottie Pippen. Even more frustrating for Suns fans, he’s slowly but surely taking control of the wheel behind the Spurs franchise, proving with each passing game that he’s nearly ready to take the reins from Tim Duncan at the tender age of 23.

During the 2015 NBA Playoffs, Leonard is averaging 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game while shooting 60 percent from the field and 56.3 percent from three-point range. He’s doing all this after leading the league in steals and has defended everyone from Chris Paul to J.J. Redick in the series so far.

Markieff Morris, 25, is coming off a career season in which he averaged 15.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game on 46.5 percent shooting. But he finished second in the league in technical fouls (15), called out his own fans at one point and pending the results of his current legal situation, could have a shaky future in Phoenix.

The Suns signed Keef to a bargain of a contract last summer, a four-year, $32 million extension that will be an even bigger steal in two years when the salary cap launches into the stratosphere. But does that compare to having a level-headed Leonard, who will be earning a max contract this summer as the franchise player for a championship organization?

Would Leonard have been the same player had he been drafted into a different situation? It’s hard to tell. The notion that Kawhi is a “system player” is misguided, but learning from all-timers like Duncan and Gregg Popovich has certainly enhanced his individual growth far more than anything in Phoenix could have dreamed of doing.

Still, for those who curse general manager Ryan McDonough for his signing of Isaiah Thomas and the way the trade deadline went down with Goran Dragic, perhaps some perspective on Blanks’ time as GM is needed.

Next: Knight: 2014-15 Phoenix Suns Player Grades

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