Kawhi Leonard is one of the brightest young stars in the NBA right now – and one of the few who aren’t currently playing the Point Guard position. As an avid fan of the NBA, I’ve always enjoyed the play of Shooting Guards and Small Forwards the most. It’s this harmonious blend of speed, athleticism & size. If you take a look at the game right now, the 4 biggest stars in my mind in the NBA are Kevin Durant (SF), Carmelo Anthony (SF), LeBron James (SF) and Kobe Bryant (SG).
Whether you agree with me or not, these 4 players possess most of the largest fan-bases for players. Other than Paul George, I think there’s no other young talent that showcased more promise this season and post-season than Kawhi Leonard. Leonard is an athletic freak – with gigantic hands and an outstanding wingspan that was deserved of an ESPN Sports Science segment. If that segment doesn’t scare you at how meant for basketball Kawhi Leonard is, I don’t know what will…
Offensively, Kawhi Leonard fits perfectly in San Antonio’s offensive scheme. He’s extremely efficient and makes smart choices offensively. Let’s take to the stats – Kawhi Leonard had 11 PPG, 6 RPG, & shot 49% from the field and 37% from the 3 during the regular season. For a second year player, on a playoff contending team, these stats are great because he’s efficient when called upon no matter where he is on the court. Kawhi’s stats only skyrocketed in the postseason as well, where his talent shined in big games.
Leonard had 13.5 PPG, 9 RPG & shot 55% from the field and 39% from the field during the 2013 Playoffs
Young players are typically expected to struggle in the playoffs with the added pressure, the expected slowing of the game and of course consistently higher quality of competition. Leonard did not. A token to his maturity and quality of play. Especially in the Miami Heat series, Kawhi Leonard served as a consistent threat offensively with his ability to score efficiently when called upon.
Kawhi’s stats jumped to 14.6 PPG, an amazing 11.1 RPG and shot 52% against a staunch Miami Heat defense. His biggest games in rebounding and scoring came in Games 5-7, arguably the most difficult games to make your mark in a game as a role player surrounded by stars – Parker, Duncan and a red-hot Danny Green. (You’ll notice I didn’t mention Manu because struggling would be a nice word to describe his performance in the Finals)
The rebounding ability of Kawhi is remarkable. Obviously, I’ve mentioned his length, height and hand size but any player will tell that rebounding is a mix of size, timing and luck anyways. Kawhi is just a natural rebounder that knows where to be and how to use his size to his advantage in timing the rebounds. Kawhi was a nightmare for the Miami Heat, a team that notoriously already has rebounding struggles.
Speaking of nightmares – Did I mention I haven’t even gotten on the subject of his defense? Let’s let LeBron James tell the story of Kawhi’s ability on defense. There’s living proof that Kawhi Leonard was capable of causing the best player in the World endless amounts of trouble. Kawhi is extremely disciplined on defense and never lets his man get too far from and when he does fail to do so, his length allows him to cover the gap. Additionally, my friends and I always joke that this player or another player is a “LeBron Stopper” or a “Kobe Stopper” when we play NBA 2k13 or joke while watching a game live at Buffalo Wild Wings or another sports venue – the most popular “LeBron Stopper” this year was Boris Diaw.
All jokes aside, Kawhi Leonard is a real-life “LeBron Stopper.” You’re probably saying, “Well if he was a LeBron Stopper the San Antonio Spurs would be NBA Champions *giggle, giggle, giggle*” Wrong. LeBron cannot be stopped and that is why he’s the best player in the world, but his effectiveness can be limited and Kawhi Leonard did so.
Is it Kawhi Leonard’s fault Jesus Shuttlesworth hit a humunogously important 3 to send Game 6 into Overtime and save Miami’s season? No.
I’m putting the video here because it’s just such a great moment in sports history:
San Antonio lost this series, Miami won. End. Of. Story. You can look into the story lines of Duncan being on the bench, but in Game 6 San Antonio still could have won in Overtime – Allen didn’t hit a game winner, he tied it. However, I digress from my original point of honoring a young talent.
In just his 2nd year in the NBA, Kawhi Leonard has showed he can score efficiently, defend some of the best players in the game and he is one of the best rebounding Small Forwards in the NBA. I thought when I watched Paul George and a Pacers team jam-packed with young talent, that there was no way I would be more excited about what another team/player will do next year. I was wrong though, because Kawhi Leonard is a player to watch for the years to come.
Much of what impresses me about Kawhi Leonard doesn’t come from tangible stats or physical characteristics – it’s his mentality and maturity at a young age. He understands the importance of unselfishness and working within a team system to get wins and postseason success. The Spurs organization has done him well as a young player and his career will flourish as a result of it The current Spurs team only has a couple years to go before they start losing what makes them the Spurs team most people love to hate, but Kawhi Leonard is the rising star that San Antonio needs to keep on keepin’ on.
Future All-Star? Yes. Future MVP? That’s a stretch. Great young talent who will only get better with age? Absolutely.