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.
Sep 18, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
Bulls center didn’t fare quite as well at White Sox game
Sep 18, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
“Everybody who knows Danny knows that he’s a good person.” —Steve Kerr on Danny Ferry
Sep 18, 2014, 12:15 AM EDT
No Robert Horry, no Igor Kokoskov
Sep 17, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT
Milwaukee will likely waive former Temple center before season
Sep 17, 2014, 10:15 PM EDT
Clippers rushed to upgrade from Hollins as backup center, the role Hollins will likely hold in Sacramento
Sep 17, 2014, 9:25 PM EDT
Sanchez played for St. John’s, Dominican Republic national team
Sep 17, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
Miami also hires Chris Quinn promotes David Fizdale
Sep 17, 2014, 7:35 PM EDT
Asik and Davis could be one of the NBA’s best defensive front lines.
Sep 17, 2014, 6:48 PM EDT
Brooklyn needs someone behind Brook Lopez and Mason Plumlee
Sep 17, 2014, 5:55 PM EDT
This is a killer addition.
Sep 17, 2014, 4:59 PM EDT
Sep 17, 2014, 4:12 PM EDT
Five games is the standard marijuana suspension, and you have to test positive three separate times to earn it.
Sep 17, 2014, 3:26 PM EDT
Jennings only shot 52 percent around the rim last year, maybe the muscle helps. Maybe.
Sep 17, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT
Chris Bosh is taller than Ellen DeGeneres, which leads to much humor. I guess.
Sep 17, 2014, 1:59 PM EDT
His veteran, playoff-tested presence will be big on this team.
Sep 17, 2014, 1:19 PM EDT
This is all we want to see out of the Timberwolves anyway.
Sep 17, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
No. Just… no.
Sep 17, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT
Cousins has won over Team USA’s brain trust.
Sep 17, 2014, 11:44 AM EDT
There’s a lot of room for improvement, let’s just say.
Sep 17, 2014, 11:05 AM EDT
Kyrie is going to have to adjust to a different role on the Cavs, but if he does watch out.
- LeBron James on Kyrie Irving: “I believe Kyrie can be the best point guard in the league.” 18
- ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Boston Celtics 3
- Dwight Howard’s driver’s license in Florida suspended, he racked up 10 red light violations in Orlando 12
- Tim Duncan to appear in “The Punisher” comic book 6
- ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: New York Knicks 10
- Klay Thompson’s agent: Thompson better two-way shooting guard than Kobe Bryant 50
- Report: Greg Oden’s drinking an issue during season, alleged domestic assault 31
- Kevin Durant calls Allen Iverson “pound for pound” best ever 29