Jun 12, 2013, 7:21 PM EDT
SAN ANTONIO — Kawhi Leonard is in only his second NBA season, but he’s already an extremely important part of the Spurs and their championship aspirations.
Leonard’s defense on LeBron James has helped limit the league MVP to 18 points or less in each of the first three games of the Finals, and when he’s not been the one who’s stopped James personally, his positioning in forcing him into where the help defense is waiting has been tactically excellent on a very high percentage of those possessions.
But Leonard’s emergence hasn’t done anything to change his personality, which remains as quiet as his play is confident.
“Kawhi has never spoken to me,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said in his typically dry tone on Wednesday. “So I don’t really know what his level of confidence is, but watching him play, it seems he has no problem in that area. He just plays and goes home.”
The way Leonard carries himself has been a perfect fit for this Spurs team that consistently has downplayed stardom in favor of working for the collective greater good, and Popovich knows that it’s a special quality that not everyone possesses.
“Really, really rare,” Popovich said. “He just doesn’t seem to have doubts. He has aspects of the game that he wants to and does work on daily. But he never shows doubt. He just shows his willingness to go to work.”
Tim Duncan couldn’t think of an instance where he’s seen Leonard lose his composure or his confidence, but admitted it might be tough to tell if in fact that was ever the case.
“I don’t think he expresses enough emotion to know either way,” Duncan said. “He’s always the same. He’s always even keeled and he always looks like he’s right where he wants to be.”
Leonard doesn’t even want to absorb any credit yet for the job he’s done on James to this point, preferring instead to praise the team concept while emulating Duncan and Popovich by doing so with as few words as possible.
“I’m studying my team concepts and just buying into our game plan,” Leonard said. “That’s all I’m doing. Playing hard.”
He’s just another cog in the Spurs machine in his eyes, and that’s what makes him a perfect fit for a team full of selfless stars that finds itself halfway to a championship — not because of the heroics of Duncan and Tony Parker, but because of guys precisely like Leonard who do their job without much more than a whisper.
Mar 31, 2015, 8:40 AM EDT
Great win — except for the fact that it may help cost the Lakers their draft pick this summer.
Mar 31, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
In a season where Kyle Korver’s three point shooting has at times seemed inhuman this may be his best shooting display.
Mar 31, 2015, 1:38 AM EDT
Also, is Kyle Korver human?
Mar 31, 2015, 12:30 AM EDT
He won’t replace Wesley Matthews, but he’s another body.
Mar 30, 2015, 11:45 PM EDT
A much-needed win for the Raptors.
Mar 30, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
Gobert wouldn’t let it stand and blocked him right after.
Mar 30, 2015, 10:15 PM EDT
It was a frightening display of strength.
Mar 30, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
A reminder of the Crash of old.
Mar 30, 2015, 8:45 PM EDT
Capela is making a name for himself.
Mar 30, 2015, 7:56 PM EDT
Rose underwent knee surgery in February.
Mar 30, 2015, 7:18 PM EDT
This is the opposite of a surprise.
Mar 30, 2015, 6:14 PM EDT
There were rumors he wanted the Sacramento GM job, but George Karl has the power there now.
Mar 30, 2015, 5:38 PM EDT
Also, is Willie Caulie-Stein a great fit next to DeMarcus Cousins?
Mar 30, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
Cavaliers center is a star
Mar 30, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
UNLV freshman likely headed for second round
Mar 30, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
The top three are Golden State, Cleveland and San Antonio. Would you be shocked if any of them won the title?
StubHub sues Warriors, accuses Golden State of preventing StubHub-using fans from buying playoff tickets
Mar 30, 2015, 2:38 PM EDT
StubHub says Warriors permit resale through only Ticketmaster
Mar 30, 2015, 1:59 PM EDT
Rockets point guard to have surgery on wrist
Mar 30, 2015, 1:27 PM EDT
Phil Jackson disciple Craig Hodges now coaching Westchester Knicks
Mar 30, 2015, 12:49 PM EDT
Jordan made preseason debut at Washington High School, but at one point, it seemed Washington High alum Junior Bridgeman would be the big draw
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