Grading the early returns from the Leonard-DeRozan trade
Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The Toronto Raptors shocked the world last July when they shipped DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a lottery-protected pick to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

Fans from both sides experienced the full gamut of emotions. There was a sense of relief and closure from Spurs supporters as the ugly Leonard saga finally came to its inevitable conclusion. Raptors fans' sentiments landed somewhere between bitter betrayal and cautious optimism after losing their loyal-yet-flawed franchise player for a proven playoff performer.

With the benefit of hindsight, it would appear that both sides got what they wanted from the deal and should be reasonably pleased with the early returns. With Leonard and Green set to make their first return to San Antonio, here's how the four players involved in the trades have graded out thus far.

Kawhi Leonard: A-

Leonard is exactly as advertised. He's a top-five player capable of imposing his will in every aspect of the game, and the Raptors should feel encouraged by how Leonard has elevated his game against top competition.

And yet, because Leonard exudes an aura of omnipotence, there is still the nagging sense that he can do more. Leonard still hasn't appeared in both ends of a back-to-back, he doesn't yet fully flow within the Raptors' offense, and he hasn't recovered his full explosiveness. While these may be just minor issues that should be rectified in time, they explain why Leonard isn't the clear-cut favorite to win MVP despite being the best player on a team boasting one of the league's best records.

Leonard's one-on-one defense has been highlight worthy (recall his role in the double chase-down block on Jayson Tatum and the no-look steal against Jimmy Butler), but Leonard isn't quite playing with the intensity and focus that he displayed when he won back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards. It's possible that Leonard is just pacing himself to carry more of the scoring, just as he did during his last healthy season with San Antonio. But at the moment, his defensive reputation slightly exceeds his impact.

The more pressing concern is that Leonard's isolation scoring hasn't quite meshed with the rest of the offense. He's willing to make the extra pass out of double teams, but his main objective is to score rather than to facilitate. He has yet to establish chemistry with Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka in the pick-and-roll, and Leonard's late-game execution in the two-man game with Kyle Lowry is mostly labored and awkward.

But again, these are negligible issues within the bigger picture. Leonard is one of just five players this season averaging 27 points with a true-shooting percentage of 60 percent; the other four names are LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Stephen Curry. We can fixate on tiny blemishes, but Leonard has performed like a legitimate superstar.

Context is also important because the initial reporting on Leonard was uniformly negative. There was widespread speculation that he wouldn't even report to the team and questions about the mysterious quad injury that limited him to just nine appearances last season, but those concerns have been mostly silenced. The collective focus in Toronto has since turned toward the postseason and Leonard's willingness to re-sign with a team based more than 2,000 miles away from his hometown.

DeMar DeRozan: A-

DeRozan's affable persona has been such a breath of fresh air when compared to Leonard's stoic nature that it doesn't even matter to most spurned Spurs fans that he's been a downgrade.

San Antonio sorely lacked structure following a turbulent summer, and DeRozan embedded himself as the franchise's backbone. He leads the team in both points and assists, and has appeared in all 38 games while the rest of the backcourt has been besieged by injuries. DeRozan even played the point for the first few weeks of the season and delivered a convincing Harden impersonation to keep the team afloat. Without him, the Spurs would be chasing lottery balls.

DeRozan isn't as good as Leonard on either end, but he does top the former Finals MVP in playmaking. Gregg Popovich scrapped his beautiful flow offense in favor of Leonard's isolation sets, but DeRozan is slowly bringing back the slick passing that the Spurs are famous for. He's creating more points with his assists (15.3) than Damian Lillard (13.7) and Curry (12.7), and he's been especially sharp in finding open shooters on kickouts.

Having said that, the underlying details behind DeRozan's scoring is a cause for concern, as he's posting his lowest true-shooting percentage since 2015. He has completely abandoned the 3-point shot (only seven makes all season) and is almost exclusively scoring off contested drives and difficult long twos. He plays an aesthetically pleasing brand of ball characterized by craft and guile, but he ultimately needs the whistle to be effective. The Spurs actually post a higher offensive rating with DeRozan on the bench.

To his credit, DeRozan has made up for the slight drop in scoring by stepping up on defense. Having arrived in San Antonio with the reputation of being a defensive liability, DeRozan is giving more effort than he ever did in Toronto, and he has fared better than most of his teammates.

Danny Green: A+

Green was a throw-in to match salaries, which seems absurd in retrospect. The 10-year vet leads the league in plus-minus, is the textbook definition of a solid veteran both on and off the floor, and has already delivered two game-winners for the Raptors.

In other words, this is not the same Green that Spurs fans had lost their patience with. After three years of inconsistent play, Green is back to shooting 40 percent from deep on five attempts per game and has even increased the moves in his repertoire. He's been money on floaters when defenders have run him off the 3-point line, and he has even busted out the occasional post-up to great success when matched up against diminutive guards.

Perhaps it was just as simple as getting fit. Green played through a groin tear that went undiagnosed by the Spurs' medical team, and like Leonard, Green has been much more healthy in Toronto. Either way, he's back to his championship form and has quickly established himself as a closer. With the acquisition of Green, the Raptors are no longer finishing games with undersized dual point guard lineups, and his ability to defend multiple positions has allowed the Raptors to effectively deploy zone defenses.

As a bonus, Green has also helped alleviate tensions by informally serving as Leonard's spokesperson. He strikes the tricky balance between being honest and still saying the right things. That part has not gone unappreciated by Raptors fans.

Jakob Poeltl: C+

Poeltl is a clever and intuitive center who plays selfless defense and doesn't demand the ball on offense, so it's surprising that he's been unable to lock down a consistent spot in Popovich's rotation. Poeltl was a DNP-CD in three of the Spurs' first six games.

Opportunity finally came in the form of Pau Gasol's foot injury. Poeltl was thrust into the role of backup center, and not coincidentally, the Spurs began to see improvements on defense. He has reeled in his foul rate and has an uncanny ability to erase mistakes at the rim.

Poeltl's passing is also a natural fit with the second unit. San Antonio generates a half-dozen points every night by running dribble hand-off actions involving Poeltl and one of Marco Belinelli, Derrick White, or Patty Mills.

But Poeltl's production is mostly underwhelming given that he was the blue-chip prospect returned in a deal for an elite player. The Spurs could have conceivably held out for the leading candidate for Most Improved Player in Pascal Siakam, but they settled for what appears to be a premium backup. Poeltl's outlook figures to be something like a nimbler version of Tiago Splitter, which isn't exactly a great haul for a superstar.

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Grading the early returns from the Leonard-DeRozan trade
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