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.
May 29, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
Sefolosha suffered a leg fracture during a police incident that kept him from participating in the playoffs.
May 29, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
Would you pay $700 for two pairs of sneakers?
May 29, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT
Jeff Hornacek remains in charge, but there has been some shuffling among his assistants.
May 29, 2015, 7:01 PM EDT
There are questions about the future of Josh Smith, Patrick Beverley and others with the team.
May 29, 2015, 6:15 PM EDT
The two most popular players in the NBA this season (with Kevin Durant out) go head-to-head on the NBA’s biggest stage.
May 29, 2015, 5:29 PM EDT
Cleveland’s defense has looked better in the playoffs than it has all season, but starting next Thursday it will get the biggest test it has had all season.
May 29, 2015, 4:53 PM EDT
Skiles is a former Magic player from 1989 through 1994.
May 29, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
Ayesha Curry cooks, Stephen Curry tastes, and Riley Curry points out raspberry-sauce spills
May 29, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
Would hiring Thibodeau really a wise call by the Pelicans?
May 29, 2015, 3:09 PM EDT
The NBA needs to review this process going forward.
May 29, 2015, 2:14 PM EDT
Warriors guard passed, but not enough time had passed to determine his health
May 29, 2015, 1:25 PM EDT
Atlanta guard expected to miss 3-4 months
May 29, 2015, 12:43 PM EDT
Believable, but is that why it’s believed?
May 29, 2015, 12:04 PM EDT
Varejao was slated to miss the entire season with an Achilles tear
May 29, 2015, 11:17 AM EDT
NBA gives Rockets center a flagrant foul, rescinds technical fouls for him and Andrew Bogut
May 29, 2015, 10:54 AM EDT
Contract negotiations reportedly ongoing
Report: Tom Thibodeau not interested in coaching Pelicans (because he fears Anthony Davis leaving), Magic or Nuggets
May 29, 2015, 10:21 AM EDT
My money is on Davis outlasting Pelicans’ next coach in New Orleans
May 29, 2015, 9:45 AM EDT
Gokul Venkatachalam predicts Cavaliers in 6
May 29, 2015, 9:08 AM EDT
Iowa State coach reportedly had concerns about NBA jump due to health
May 29, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
They want Fred Hoiberg, but does he want them?
- PBT Extra with NBASavant.com: Cleveland may want to cover Curry in the left corner 1
- It’s official: Scott Skiles hired as head coach of Orlando Magic 19
- PBT Podcast: Talking Thibodeau/Bulls divorce; future for Rockets, Hawks 0
- Warriors’ Klay Thompson officially diagnosed with concussion 17
- Klay Thompson should not have been cleared to return to Game 5 after concussion evaluation 15
- Dwight Howard suspended one game after foul switcheroo 18
- Three coaches who may replace Tom Thibodeau in Chicago 12
- Report: Kevin Love going to “look around” this summer as free agent; Celtics, Lakers, Rockets possible 48