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.
Apr 28, 2015, 12:57 PM EDT
He could need surgery.
Apr 28, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
The second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs just got very, very interesting.
Apr 28, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT
Apr 28, 2015, 11:10 AM EDT
Williams silenced his critics with a 35-point outing, and Jack had some words for Pierce afterward.
Apr 28, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
Apr 28, 2015, 9:50 AM EDT
Kidd jumped up and down to make sure to get the timeout he wanted.
Apr 28, 2015, 9:10 AM EDT
The Lillard we remembered from last year’s playoffs was back.
Apr 28, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
Can Austin Rivers have another strong game?
Apr 28, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Houston needs to make adjustments to the new Dallas starting lineup.
Apr 28, 2015, 2:13 AM EDT
Without Mike Conley to check him Damian Lillard ran free.
Apr 28, 2015, 1:14 AM EDT
D-Will tied his career playoff high with this.
Apr 27, 2015, 11:23 PM EDT
Michael Carter-Williams and Khris Middleton combined for 43 points.
Apr 27, 2015, 9:56 PM EDT
Series is now tied at 2-2.
Apr 27, 2015, 9:01 PM EDT
Washington’s averaged defender distance to the Toronto shooter was 3.55 feet, the closest defense any team played in the first round of the playoffs.
Apr 27, 2015, 7:58 PM EDT
The doctor will decide if microfracture is needed while doing a scope.
Apr 27, 2015, 7:17 PM EDT
The Cavs will be without two starters for the first two games of next round.
Apr 27, 2015, 6:59 PM EDT
Davis was +35 when playing while Green sat, -55 while Green was on the court at the same time.
Apr 27, 2015, 6:22 PM EDT
He would have been key against the Bulls to help space the floor.
Apr 27, 2015, 5:45 PM EDT
Olynyk finds common ground with Clevelanders
Apr 27, 2015, 4:59 PM EDT
Stats show Boston defended LeBron well, he just hit the shots anyway.
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- PBT Extra: Who wins Game 5 between Spurs, Clippers? Flip a coin. 4
- PBT Extra: Rockets must adjust to new Mavericks starting lineup in Game 5 9
- Portland comes from 10 down in fourth quarter to win 99-92, stay alive in series 5
- Bucks stay alive behind big backcourt performance to force Game 6 vs. Bulls 25
- Incredible 35-point performance from Deron Williams leads Nets to overtime Game 4 win over Hawks 11
- PBT Extra with NBASavant.com: Wizard’s defense peaking at right time 2