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.
Jul 29, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Lakers were in a bad place when Jackson first stepped away
Jul 29, 2015, 11:11 AM EDT
Brooklyn owner praises Adam Silver for filling in
Jul 29, 2015, 10:13 AM EDT
Cavaliers star also addresses his favorites – including place to play, rapper, and teammates
Jul 29, 2015, 9:26 AM EDT
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Jul 29, 2015, 8:31 AM EDT
Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith head the list.
Jul 29, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Bounce passes are less effective in baseball.
Jul 29, 2015, 12:05 AM EDT
Cuban said presidential candidate is ‘probably the best thing to happen to politics in a long, long time’
Jul 28, 2015, 11:09 PM EDT
Could former summer-league standout fill Golden State’s need for an off-the-bench shooter?
Jul 28, 2015, 10:11 PM EDT
Hint, hint, hint
Jul 28, 2015, 9:16 PM EDT
Dallas also reportedly talking to Salah Mejri
Jul 28, 2015, 8:19 PM EDT
Thunder power forward was scheduled to play in African exhibition game
Jul 28, 2015, 7:24 PM EDT
Miami cleared roster room for second-round pick
Jul 28, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
I can tell you where Batum will land next summer — whichever team offers him the most money.
Jul 28, 2015, 5:46 PM EDT
He’ll be back this fall.
Jul 28, 2015, 5:05 PM EDT
The Lakers and Knicks don’t make a ton of sense for him.
Jul 28, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
He’s been sober four years, which is most important.
Jul 28, 2015, 3:29 PM EDT
With more number retirements in Boston on the way in a few years.
Jul 28, 2015, 2:46 PM EDT
Did Michael Jordan hijack the draft process in Charlotte again?
Jul 28, 2015, 1:54 PM EDT
Walker is expected to sign the bill to allocate funds for a new arena.
Jul 28, 2015, 1:43 PM EDT
Batum will be a free agent next summer.
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