Jun 12, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT
In 2011, a 22-year-old Derrick Rose became the youngest Most Valuable Player in NBA history. Dwight Howard, then just 25, finished second in the voting. Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks to the championship.
The NBA can be a reactionary league, and some teams set out that offseason searching for the next Rose, Howard or Nowitzki or a player who could stop one of those three. A point guard, center and power forward.
The Spurs didn’t become the NBA’s top team in the last 15 years by being reactionary, though, and they eyed a different type of player, one who could help them in 2012, 2013 and beyond – not 2011, a season that had already ended. That meant they needed someone to guard LeBron James and Kevin Durant, small forwards.
So, the Spurs shopped George Hill, a player they had developed into a borderline starter/Sixth Man of the Year candidate. To a degree, San Antonio got lucky Kawhi Leonard – ranked No. 6 on ESPN’s big board – fell all the way to the No. 15 pick in the 2011 draft, where the Pacers picked and were willing to trade for Hill.
The Spurs’ calculation was dead on. LeBron and Durant finished 1-2 in MVP voting and led their team to a combined three Finals in the two years since San Antonio drafted Leonard. Meanwhile, Leonard has developed into one of the NBA’s best defenders of those two.
That ability was on full display during the Spurs’ 113-77 Game 3 win over the Heat last night. In addition to posting 14 points and 12 rebounds, Leonard became the youngest player since at least 1985 to get four steals in a Finals game and helped hold LeBron to 7-of-21 shooting and, for the first time since 2009, no free throws .
LeBron has never averaged fewer points per game in a series than the 16.7 he’s scoring in these Finals, and his series field-goal percentage (38.9) is his lowest in the last five years. Of course, Leonard doesn’t deserve all the credit, but he’s the primary piece of San Antonio’s defense of LeBron.
Leonard showed this type of defensive potential against Durant in the Western Conference Finals last year, but ultimately, Leonard was still a rookie and wasn’t ready for the matchup. That was a key reason the Thunder beat the Spurs to reach the Finals.
But Leonard, even though he’s four years younger than any other starter in this series, sure looks ready now. Especially impressively, Leonard has grabbed two, eight and three offensive rebounds in the Finals. He’s not just guarding LeBron, he has enough energy to make all the hustle plays on offense, too.
Leonard is at the perfect crossroads, young enough to play hard for major minutes and savvy enough to play well on the biggest stage – just as the Spurs envisioned two years ago.
Aug 28, 2015, 11:21 AM EDT
Spoiler: Thomas’ team won.
Aug 28, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
The Lakers co-owner isn’t closing the door.
Aug 28, 2015, 9:44 AM EDT
Get excited, Magic fans.
Aug 28, 2015, 9:10 AM EDT
No deal is in place as of now.
Aug 28, 2015, 8:34 AM EDT
He calls DeMarcus Cousins his “brother.”
Aug 28, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Did Mychal raise a cheater? I don’t think so.
Aug 27, 2015, 11:59 PM EDT
Henderson has played in Iraq and Qatar since going undrafted.
Aug 27, 2015, 11:15 PM EDT
Howard last played in the NBA in 2012.
Aug 27, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
This is scary for the rest of the league if it’s true.
Aug 27, 2015, 9:45 PM EDT
Westbrook and Nina Earl have been together since college.
Aug 27, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
Rose’s first public comments since the civil suit.
Aug 27, 2015, 8:15 PM EDT
They’re pretty sweet.
Aug 27, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
Sultan Kosem of Turkey is 8-foot-3.
Aug 27, 2015, 6:45 PM EDT
As an NBA League Pass junkie I’ll tell you why I’m happy — she’s good.
Aug 27, 2015, 5:51 PM EDT
If you’re keeping score at home, there are two shattered backboards on the list.
Aug 27, 2015, 5:06 PM EDT
The Cavaliers need to be patient with him.
Aug 27, 2015, 4:25 PM EDT
Chocolate Thunder remained an ambassador of the game.
Aug 27, 2015, 3:31 PM EDT
He probably will land on a roster somewhere. Eventually.
Aug 27, 2015, 2:45 PM EDT
This is a blow to France, but they remain one of the deepest teams at EuroBasket and one of the favorites.
Aug 27, 2015, 1:54 PM EDT
Houston’s salary cap picture changed before the deal got inked.
- Jim Buss open to the idea of Kobe Bryant playing beyond this season 3
- Derrick Rose on sexual assault suit: “I am confident I will be proven innocent” 2
- Report: Kyrie Irving likely not back opening night, could be out until January 13
- Legendary Sixer, backboard-shattering dunker Darryl Dawkins dies at 58 14
- After Rio Olympics next summer, who takes over at Team USA coach? 7
- Kobe, Shaq discuss regrets over feud that ended their Lakers era 48
- NBA fines Clippers for attempting to circumvent salary cap with DeAndre Jordan 10
- The most overlooked – and maybe most significant – reason Carmelo Anthony won’t waive his no-trade clause this season 17