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.
Jul 28, 2014, 7:19 PM EDT
Mike Krzyzewski said Derrick Rose looked healthy at Tea USA training camp.
Jul 28, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
Donald Sterling’s right to appeal restricted, a pivotal and unexpected ruling
Jul 28, 2014, 5:39 PM EDT
Williams didn’t get quite the payday he was expecting as an unrestricted free agent.
Jul 28, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT
The USA has superior athletes and should use that to their advantage.
Jul 28, 2014, 4:33 PM EDT
Derrick Rose seems to be moving and playing like the Derrick Rose of old.
Jul 28, 2014, 3:44 PM EDT
Thaddeus Young is not Kevin Love but he’d keep the Timberwolves from going into full rebuild mode.
Jul 28, 2014, 3:03 PM EDT
Wade may be looking forward to going up against LeBron, but I don’t think he’s going to like how the game ends.
Jul 28, 2014, 2:27 PM EDT
Ron Artest made a brief appearance on a rec league court in Los Angeles.
Jul 28, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT
When the game’s best player makes a uniform change, manufacturers spring into immediate action.
Jul 28, 2014, 12:56 PM EDT
LeBron said when switching to 6 four years ago that no one should wear 23 out of respect to MJ.
Jul 28, 2014, 12:07 PM EDT
Insert your own “he only jumped over Lowry” jokes, we’re not going to do that.
Jul 28, 2014, 11:23 AM EDT
Rose is expected to make the roster, but will need to shake the rust off quickly to show he’s more deserving than the other elite guards in camp.
Jul 28, 2014, 10:42 AM EDT
“The fact that I haven’t been traded yet makes me feel comfortable.” —Klay Thompson
Jul 28, 2014, 10:01 AM EDT
Because he could.
Jul 28, 2014, 9:24 AM EDT
The league won’t let it get to that point.
Jul 28, 2014, 8:45 AM EDT
Scott was historically bad at coaching defense in three seasons with the Cavaliers.
Jul 28, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
After all the players shifts this summer, the top three teams in the power rankings remain unchanged from the last one lst year.
Jul 28, 2014, 2:04 AM EDT
Lance letting us know where his loyalties lie.
Jul 27, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
The 2015 Slam Dunk Contest champion might have already been decided.
Jul 27, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
At least he has an injury.
- Derrick Rose: “I’ve become a smarter player, but I’m mad it took me seven years to learn it.” 0
- Shelly Sterling beats Donald Sterling in court, clears sale of Clippers to Steve Ballmer 13
- Report: Timberwolves have talked to Sixers about Thaddeus Young as Kevin Love replacement 21
- All eyes on Derrick Rose as USA Basketball mini-camp begins 21
- Klay Thompson doesn’t anticipate being traded, says he expects to play with Warriors next season 7
- PBT Power Rankings: After summer shakeups, Spurs still team to beat 47
- Report: ‘No chance’ Kevin Love stays with Timberwolves 65
- LeBron announces he’ll wear No. 23 with Cavaliers 64