Kawhi Leonard Vs. Chris Singleton Vs. Tristan Thompson Vs. Markieff Morris

The Wizards need to emphasize defense at the 2011 NBA Draft, because they have always been bad on defense, according to Jason Reid.  That's pretty much his whole point, and there isn't very much that is actually done to advance it any further, though I guess you could argue that the very fact a point so elementary needs to be made indicates the Wizards need to emphasize defense.  Thankfully, we have the capacity to actually apply Reid's overarching point to the specifics of the 2011 NBA Draft.  (I guess Reid had the capacity to do the same, but instead chose to compare the Wizards to the two teams in the Eastern Conference Finals, neither of which are in the Wizards' zip code.  But that's neither here nor there).

When Reid says the Wizards need to emphasize defense, to me, it's like saying the Wizards need to choose between four different guys.  We're going to assume for a second that Enes Kanter isn't going to be around at No. 6 and that the Wizards won't orchestrate a trade to get him.  We're also going to rule out Jan Vesely, because one-on-one defense is his biggest weakness, and Jonas Valanciunas, because he's such an unknown either way at age 19 having just recently grown into his frame.  I'm also not going to talk about Bismack Biyombo, though he might be a better option than anyone, mostly because he can't be compared to these four.  Finally, we're going to ignore Brandon Knight or Kemba Walker because they are point guards.  

That leaves us with four men: Kawhi Leonard, Chris Singleton, Tristan Thompson and Markieff Morris.  All four show some very good indicators that they could be defensive forces in the NBA in however limited a capacity.  All are combo forwards, though Thompson's more of a true 4.  A look at each below the jump:

First thing's first, let's establish what we're looking for.  This is just me, but when I think about forward prospects that can help a team's defense, here are some things I weigh (stats via Draft Express and KenPom)

  • Two-point shooting percentage. This is a big one, because it determines whether you're a complete self-check on offense.  While defense is very important, it's not completely a functional skill if you are a complete zero on offense.  You need to be able to cut and hit layups, and/or you need to show me some capability to hit a mid-range jumper.  A decent two-point percentage for me shows you can do one or the other.  Any figure under 50% is a big red flag for me.
  • Wingspan/Reach: Height is unimportant, because you don't play basketball from the top of your head to your shoes.  You have arms, and you use them to alter shots, block shots, deflect passes and play sound post defense.  So if you are short, it can be forgiven if you have a good wingspan.
  • TS%: Goes along with two-point shooting percentage.  It gives you an idea of whether the players' offensive game is refined or whether it still needs room to grow.  Very much tied into usage.
  • Defensive Rebound Rate: Moreso than offensive rebound rate, because we're talking about defense here.
  • FT%/3PT%: Depending on the player, this gives me a better idea of whether someone is a self-check.  Three-point percentage is big for projected wings; FT% is big for projected bigs.
So with that in mind, let's take a quick look at these four:

Kawhi Leonard

  • Two-point percentage: 47.8%.  That's just dreadful.  Some of it can be explained by increased usage (Leonard's rate went from 25.6% to 27.5% from his first to his second year), but no lottery pick should ever be that low without a good reason. 
  • Wingspan/Reach: This is Leonard's biggest asset.  His 7'3'' wingspan is freakish and his 8'10'' standing reach is very good too.  He also has insanely big hands. 
  • TS%: 51.2%.  Again, that's dreadful for a top prospect.  It was only 51.5% the year before, so this isn't simply a function of increased usage.  
  • Defensive Rebound Rate: 26.6%, 13th in the country.  That's phenomenal, but...
  • 3PT%: 29.1%.  
  • Conclusion: And therein lies the problem.  Leonard will have to become a passable three-point shooter, because he is so dreadfully inefficient as a two-point shooter.  To do that, he will have to play further away from the basket, which negates his rebounding advantage.  This is why I'm down on Leonard as a prospect.  He's a great workout guy and has great measurables, but he doesn't have enough scoring ability to be anything more than a self-check as a 4, and even if he develops a three-point shot and becomes a 3/D type, it takes away his biggest on-court asset (rebounding).  There are a lot of interesting things to the Leonard package, but they just don't add up to me.  

Chris Singleton

  • Two-point percentage: 46.6%, which is dreadful.  However, at least it was a little better the year before (49.4%).  Still, red flag.
  • Wingspan/Reach: 7'1'', which isn't Leonard-good, but is still excellent for a guy who may project as a 3 on the next level.  (He's a 3/4 type).  His standing reach is 8'7.5'', which is strangely low -- not sure how to explain a long wingspan with a shortish reach.  But I don't think it's that big of a deal.
  • TS%: 53%.  Which is still pretty bad, but is at least better than Leonard.  Also worth noting: Florida State had much less talent around Singleton than San Diego State had around Leonard.  I feel better about Singleton's low scoring efficiency number than Leonard's for that reason.
  • Defensive Rebound Rate: 17.1%, which is OK.  Not great, but not a red flag.
  • 3PT%: 36.8%.  
  • Conclusion: The latter figure is what gives Singleton some hope for me.  I think he will much more easily transition into a 3/D role than Leonard.  He improved his three-point shot from last year to this year, and I think he could develop into a three-point shooter in the pros.  That allows me to excuse his similarly dreadful 2PT%, because if he's a 3/D guy, he's not taking a ton of 2s anyway.  Leonard is younger, but I'd rather take Singleton than him.

Tristan Thompson

  • Two-point percentage: 54.6%, which is somewhat encouraging for someone without much offensive skills.
  • Wingspan/Reach: 7'1.25'' for the wingspan, which is very solid for someone who might be a bit undersized height-wise as a 4.  That tells me he can play the position.  So to does the stand-and-reach of 9'0.5''.  Dude's a 4 in this league.
  • TS%: 54%.  For someone who uses so few possessions, that's not particularly great.  He'll need to diversify his offensive game in the pros.
  • Defensive Rebound Rate: 13.7%.  Big red flag.  He sort of makes up for it by having one of the best block rates in the country, but that's not a good sign.
  • FT%: 48.7%.  Another red flag because it shows he may not have the stroke to develop a jumper.  
  • Conclusion: In the end, I see flaws with Thompson, but I love his defensive potential and think his offensive game can grow a bit.  He's still so young and Texas had two guards who kept wanting to shoot.  I think he immediately becomes the Wizards' best one-on-one defender (he shut down Derrick Williams in the NCAA Tournament), and he's a great weakside shot-blocker.  His offensive and rebounding limitations make him a reserve, but you could say the same for lots of guys in this draft.

Markieff Morris

  • Two-point percentage: 62.5%, which is obviously phenomenal and blows everyone else away on this list.
  • Wingspan/Reach: 6'10.75''/8'10.5''.  The stand and reach is fine, but the wingspan is a bit short for my liking for an inside player.  It's not horrible -- that's essentially what Darrell Arthur was, and he's a rotation player -- but I'm a little skeptical of his ability to guard NBA power forwards.  I'd be very curious when DX posts their Synergy numbers to see how he fares in isolation situations.  
  • TS%: 64.2%.  Again, phenomenal.
  • Defensive Rebound Rate: 25%.  Phenomenal.
  • FT%/3PT%: 62.5%/42.4%.  I'm a little concerned about his defense, but his offensive measurables are off the charts.  I feel like he might be one of the steals of the draft, and I definitely like him more than his brother.  
Mostly, I'm doing this to illustrate that taking Kawhi Leonard at 6 is a bad idea.  The other three guys, right now, are projected behind him, and all are comparable or better than him in several key measurables.  I'd consider putting all three ahead of Leonard on my draft board, to be honest.  There's nothing wrong with trading back and nabbing one of these three guys instead if Ernie Grunfeld decides he wants a guy like Leonard.
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