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 25, 2014, 12:01 AM EDT
Bonner is one of a few Spurs teammates taking the trophy on tour this summer.
Jul 24, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
Sixers continue their plan of seeking out delayed gratification.
Agency that reps Ray Allen says reports he intends to play for Cavaliers are ‘unfounded,’ no decision has been made
Jul 24, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT
Despite reports that Allen was on the verge of signing with Cleveland, nothing has been decided just yet.
Jul 24, 2014, 8:44 PM EDT
Blake Griffin joins Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge as players who are passing on Team USA this summer.
Jul 24, 2014, 7:18 PM EDT
Team USA is bringing Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Derrick Rose and John Wall to camp. And that’s just at the point guard spot.
Jul 24, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
The NBPA is up to something here
It’s official: Jameer Nelson signs with Mavericks, says: “I’m just preparing myself to make open shots.”
Jul 24, 2014, 5:49 PM EDT
Another solid signing for a Mavs team that has had a good offseason.
Jul 24, 2014, 5:02 PM EDT
It’s the largest single-year contract in NBA history.
Jul 24, 2014, 4:19 PM EDT
It’s another 30 days Minnesota can try to leverage a better deal out of Chicago, Golden State and anyone else who wants Kevin Love.
Jul 24, 2014, 3:33 PM EDT
His new nickname could be PG-13.
Jul 24, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT
Houston obviously didn’t match, allowing Parsons to sign with Mavericks
Jul 24, 2014, 2:22 PM EDT
Lin wore No. 17 with Knicks
Jul 24, 2014, 1:48 PM EDT
Just first season will be guaranteed
Jul 24, 2014, 1:04 PM EDT
Frank Caliendo makes it happen
Jul 24, 2014, 12:19 PM EDT
Do you think Jim Buss is going to give up his job, step aside for Rivers and put someone in over long-time trusted Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak? Really?
Jul 24, 2014, 11:24 AM EDT
Wizards deny Seraphin permission to participate
Jul 24, 2014, 10:33 AM EDT
Green, drafted No. 46 in 2013, spent a year overseas
Jul 24, 2014, 9:55 AM EDT
Huestis would have accepted arrangement only with Thunder or Spurs, but will the NBA or players union allow it?
Jul 24, 2014, 9:22 AM EDT
Sacramento’s search for a starting-caliber point guard let the one already there leave for Suns
- Players union approves of Thunder’s Josh Huestis arrangement 8
- Cavaliers officially sign Andrew Wiggins, putting 30-day hold on him being traded 43
- Lakers deny rumor they are waiting around for Doc Rivers to be coach 55
- James Harden: “Dwight and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets. The rest of the guys are role players.” 86
- Mavericks signing Al-Farouq Aminu to two-year, minimum salary contract 12
- Report: Ballmer’s $2 billion Clippers offer nearly double what Bank of America valued team at 20
- Report: Jameer Nelson near $2.7 million deal to join Dallas Mavericks 17
- Report: Mavericks void Rashard Lewis’ contract after it’s discovered he needs knee surgery 13