The crop of players to come out of the 2011 NBA Draft has been rather impressive, and the Spurs were reportedly ready to go all in on a future all-pro not named Kawhi Leonard.
According to a recent column by ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the Spurs attempted to move up in the draft to select current Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson.
Here’s how Lowe described some of the internal discussions the Spurs had about Thompson heading into the draft.
“The intel on Thompson was so jumbled, the Spurs needed two private workouts before deciding to attempt trading up to get him. After one workout, Chip Engelland, the Spurs' shooting guru, told the front office something that made their hair stand on end, officials remember: Thompson's competitive nature reminded him of Manu Ginobili. "There's something deep in there," Engelland recalled. "He has that chip. When you see it, you know it."
An SB Nation article posted in June 2011 reported the Spurs were willing to give up Tony Parker and/or then-Spurs forward Richard Jefferson to move into the lottery to draft Thompson.
The Spurs were coming off a disappointing first round series playoffs loss to the Memphis Grizzlies and knew they needed help at the shooting guard or small forward position.
The Thompson deal did not go through and he was drafted No. 11 by Golden State, but the Spurs still managed make a franchise-changing move when they acquired the rights to Kawhi Leonard from the Indiana Pacers in the same draft.
The Spurs also managed to keep Tony Parker as they traded fan favorite George Hill for Leonard.
(See a Kawhi Leonard vs. Klay Thompson 2016 comparison chart below)
Thompson has become one of the best shooting guards in the league, if not the best, but Kawhi Leonard represents everything the Spurs are all about and has blossomed into the best two-way player in the game.
Leonard plays the game hard, is humble and the perfect Spurs player to take the franchise torch from Tim Duncan.
When it comes to stats and accolades, Leonard has racked up more individual awards and both have championship rings, but Thompson is close to getting his second title.
Lowe alludes to Thompson’s killer instinct which may be the next step in Kawhi Leonard’s progression to become an all-time great.
Whether it was Kawhi or Klay, it’s extremely impressive the Spurs knew they had to make a move in 2011 to become a true contender and targeted the top two players in the draft, neither of which were taken in the top 10.
In case you’re wondering, here’s the top 10 of that draft, and yes, I absolutely believe Kawhi and Klay are much better than Kyrie Irving.
1. Kyrie Irving selected by Cleveland
2. Derrick Williams selected by Minnesota
3. Enes Kanter selected by Utah
4. Tristan Thompson selected by Cleveland
5. Jonas Valanciunas selected by Toronto
6. Jan Vesely selected by Washington
7. Bismack Biyombo selected by Sacramento traded to Charlotte
8. Brandon Knight selected by Detroit
9. Kemba Walker selected by Charlotte
10. Jimmer Fredette selected by Sacramento
11. Klay Thompson selected by Golden State
15. Kawhi Leonard selected by Indiana traded to San Antonio