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What is Kawhi Leonard's fantasy trade value?

Kawhi Leonard is back but is being brought along slowly. What is his fantasy value going forward? AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we pose a question to a panel of ESPN fantasy basketball experts to gauge their thoughts on a hot topic.

Today's contributors are ESPN Fantasy's Joe Kaiser, Jim McCormick and Kyle Soppe.


What are your expectations for Kawhi Leonard for the rest of the season? How much would you give up to acquire him in a trade?

Kyle Soppe: To understand the conundrum that is Kawhi Leonard, one must understand what coach Gregg Popovich's plan is. Good luck with that.

We know that winning in June is much more the priority than winning in January, so you need to tread lightly and make sure that you are not simply interested in Leonard due to his name value. That said, Leonard is an elite fantasy asset, and if there is a nervous manager in your league, you need to pounce.

I'm still optimistic that Leonard can be a top-20 player in rather short order, and would consider moving a player in the Bradley Beal or DeMar DeRozan tier for Leonard once we see Leonard log 25-plus minutes in a game.

Jim McCormick: It's somewhat natural to think of Leonard as a finished product, as we tend to do for most NBA superstars. Yet I wouldn't be surprised if he's a better player than last season -- when he was seventh overall on the Player Rater.

From the 2013-14 season through last season, Leonard improved his scoring output by at least 20.2 percent each season and by an average of 26 percent over that four-season sample. Last season, Leonard improved his assist rate by 45.3 percent and set a new career high in usage rate, all while maintaining dominant defensive numbers.

There is a temptation to temper expectations when it comes to the fantasy prospects of players on the Spurs, especially as the team is spreading steady minutes deep throughout the rotation. I believe Leonard is the exception to the constraints of this model; it might take several weeks for a return to playing 33 minutes per game, as he has the past two seasons, but it will be entirely worth the wait when he does.

I would be willing to be aggressive for Leonard in trade talks; dealing the likes of Paul George or, gasp, even Ben Simmons. Even if Leonard's game has plateaued, which I find unlikely, given the past five years, you are still netting a top-10 fantasy option.

Joe Kaiser: Nobody could have expected Leonard to come right in and play 30 minutes a night. Given his time off recovering from a mysterious quad injury, it's not surprising that the star forward is being eased back into the swing of things.

In the short-term, your patience will be tested. His minutes will be in the 15-20 range, and he will be rested from time to time, as he will be on Wednesday against Portland.

As we get into the new year, though, I expect Leonard to be right back to the dynamic two-way player he has been for the past 2-3 years, a stretch that has seen him develop into a top-10 fantasy option. If I'm you, the only way I'm giving up on Leonard right now is if someone knocks your socks off with a terrific trade offer.