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.
Oct 25, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
Reigning Rookie of the Year had offseason shoulder surgery, but may not miss many regular season games.
Oct 25, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Defending champs have no reason to exert themselves until the games count in the standings.
Oct 25, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Lopez hasn’t practiced since it was reported he suffered a soft tissue injury to his surgically repaired foot on Oct. 16.
Oct 25, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
Warriors hold (almost) all the leverage, because Thompson will be a restricted free agent next summer.
Oct 25, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
Oct 25, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Lineup data shows Green greatly improves his team’s chances when playing with the starters.
Oct 25, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Is Stephenson ready for responsibility that comes with going from Pacers to Hornets?
Oct 25, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
No surprise, and Lakers fans feel the same way.
Oct 25, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
It might be because short of an insane offer of a max deal, Thompson would rather take his chances as a restricted free agent next summer.
Oct 25, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Nice job of McCallum to stay active on a play where he had already missed a shot.
Oct 25, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Will Thomas make Kings regret choosing Darren Collison over him?
Oct 25, 2014, 12:01 AM EDT
Thunder will be very short-handed the first month of the regular season.
Oct 24, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
It’s far from guaranteed that they will use it.
Oct 24, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
And it was probably the smartest possible play
Oct 24, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT
76ers forwent any guaranteed salary to hit free agency sooner
Oct 24, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT
Bucks point guard Nate Wolters makes heads-up play
Oct 24, 2014, 7:31 PM EDT
Can’t say I ever pictured that.
Oct 24, 2014, 6:40 PM EDT
This is a minor trade, even in Sam Hinkie’s world.
Oct 24, 2014, 5:31 PM EDT
Clippers owner affirms reputation
Byron Scott says Lakers may need to trade for point guard. For now, Ronnie Price starts, Jeremy Lin off bench.
Oct 24, 2014, 4:41 PM EDT
Expect the Lakers to try and trade for a point guard… no, not Rajon Rondo.
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