During the 2011 NBA Draft, the San Antonio Spurs were clearly eyeing a player in the mid-first round. The Spurs had notified the Indiana Pacers that if this unknown player was still available, San Antonio would be willing to send George Hill in return for Indiana’s 15th overall pick. When it was time for the Pacers to make the pick, the Spurs’ target of Kawhi Leonard was still on the board, making it possible for the San Antonio to pull off the most lopsided deal over the past decade.
In the 2010-11 NBA season, Hill was solid offensively, averaging 11.6 points per game while demonstrating that he was certainly a capable defender. However, Hill had only one year left on his contract at the time. The Spurs were weary of their shot at retaining him, believing that it could possibly take too much money to keep his services. In the end, Hill signed a five-year deal worth $40 million with the Pacers.
Although Hill was a solid contributor for the Spurs, he seemed very close to hitting his ceiling. He had also become expendable after Gary Neal came onto the scene during the season, tallying 16.7 points per 36 minutes in his first year in the NBA. Leonard, on the other hand, was more of an unknown commodity with observable potential, considering his athleticism, length and work ethic.
By trading for Leonard, San Antonio acquired a player who would be signed to an affordable rookie contract for the long-term. This meant that the organization would be swapping Hill (who the team would certainly have struggle re-signing) for a player on a long-term deal for a much smaller price.
Since being drafted, Leonard has done nothing but improve every year, mainly highlighted by his developed three-point shot. Leonard, who was only a 25 percent three-point shooter in college, has shot over 37 percent from behind the arc in all three years for the Spurs. Even better, in an organization full of players and coaches who embody superior class and professionalism, Leonard has fit that mold perfectly. Leonard’s unique brand of basketball lets his play do the talking, something the Spurs organization values.
Looking back, it is almost inconceivable that Leonard, an NBA Finals MVP in just his third year, was swapped for Hill. This swap, which seemed like a plausible deal for both teams at the time, now qualifies as yet another steal for the Spurs.