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Kawhi Leonard’s continued evolution shapes Spurs’ present and future

Jun 13, 2014, 2:35 AM EST

Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan

Kawhi Leonard, a white towel and gray shirt wrapped around his neck, stared down without making eye contact.

“I couldn’t be more proud of you,” Gregg Popovich told him. “You made some shots, and you played good D. But you competed – 50/50 balls, being active, the whole deal.”

Leonard might detest the spotlight – even a one-on-one moment with his coach during Game 4 seemed like too much attention for him – but he can’t escape it.

For the second straight game, Leonard was the Spurs’ best player. In San Antonio’s 107-86 Game 4 win over the Heat on Thursday, he scored 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds – another NBA Finals double-double for the 22-year-old.

Leonard now has five of the nine youngest double-doubles in the NBA Finals since 1985 with Kobe Bryant and LeBron James taking the rest. Pretty elite company.

Does Leonard belong?

He scored 29 points in Game 3, his highest-scoring game since high school, and defended relatively well. He looked like Paul George.

But, unlike Popovich, most observers didn’t believe.

They said it was a fluke. They said Miami hadn’t prepared for him. They said the San Antonio’s better players got him open.

“I’m just a ballplayer,” he said.

Leonard is a quiet presence who fits perfectly with the Spurs. Even when leading San Antonio in scoring in back-to-back games, he deflects publicity.

Unlike his scoring outburst in Game 3, Leonard showed his more-typical all-around game Thursday. Few in the NBA can match him across all four levels of the floor – inside and outside, offensively and defensively.

Leonard can make a spot-up 3-pointer over LeBron on one possession and do this on another. Only LeBron, George and Kevin Durant top Leonard in games this postseason with both a 3-pointer and dunk (nine).

On the other end, Leonard got three steals and blocked three shots. Miami shot just 39 percent and turned the ball over 11 times with him on the court.

In all facets, Leonard made his presence felt.

“He’s going to be unbelievable,” Tim Duncan said

Leonard’s overall stat line – 20 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, three steals, three blocks – is unmatched in the calendar year.

Last time someone did it in the playoffs? Duncan in 2008.

Last time someone did it in the Finals? Duncan in 2003.

At some point, Duncan will retire, and the Spurs could become Leonard’s. He’s not yet good enough to carry a team, but he might never need to fill that role. Leonard is so versatile, he’ll give Popovich and R.C. Buford plenty of flexibility for assembling a team around him.

For now, Leonard is happily excelling in his current position – one game from his first championship. I have a feeling Leonard is in store for many firsts in the coming years, though craving attention probably won’t be one of them.

  1. antistratfordian - Jun 13, 2014 at 2:58 AM

    Leonard is going to be unbelievable? When? When he’s 27? He’s 23 years old, not 18. He better start getting a lot better, and fast, to live up to this Paul George-ish hype.

    • sportsfan18 - Jun 13, 2014 at 3:37 AM

      OK Anti…

      I see you’re in your MAD period now from the way the Heat rolled over and played dead…

      They did a GREAT job of playing dead though… wonderful, consistent…

      Their EXECUTION of playing dead was amazing… They pulled it off for a full 48 min’s straight…

      Wanna know what LBJ is thinking about right now? Am I on the Cavs or the Heat…

      This feels like 2007 when Duncan and the Spurs rolled the Cavs and an admittedly young LBJ…

      But, LJB is NOT young now… he’s in his prime…

      HOPEFULLY the Spurs hang on and win…

      If the Spurs do win, it would mean that Duncan was 2 & 1 against Lebron in NBA Finals… not good for LBJ’s legacy…

      When LBJ lost those early Finals, it was true that he was a puppy then… MJ was much older when he made it to the Finals…

      But now, LBJ is 29 yrs old, in his prime… not good to be losing a Finals then…

      Please Spurs, close this out…

      Oh, it would drop LBJ to 2 & 3 in Finals too… again, not good for his legacy…

      Wherever MJ was last night, I know what he was thinking…

      “Being 6 & 0 in NBA Finals…”

      Priceless…

      • antistratfordian - Jun 13, 2014 at 3:44 AM

        And what does that have to do with Kawhi Leonard?

    • draconian1111 - Jun 13, 2014 at 4:45 AM

      In one of your idiotic posts, you referred to him as a role player – even though – he out played LBJ.
      He better start getting a lot better? Uhhhh…last I saw – Spurs beat your team by 19 and then 21 – in there own house – AND it’s a TEAM game.
      What…is your expectation? I think…you need…meds.

      • chicagosports2014 - Jun 13, 2014 at 8:45 AM

        I don’t think I ever liked the Spurs so much, as they DEFEAT THE HEAT.

        👏

      • antistratfordian - Jun 13, 2014 at 5:02 PM

        Who do you think Kawhi Leonard is? You think he’s a star because he scored more points than LBJ in one game? He is a nice complimentary piece to a team with a system like San Antonio’s. He is not a player who can carry a franchise. And he’s not exactly “young” either.

    • tuberippin - Jun 13, 2014 at 5:23 AM

      “He’s 23 years old, not 18. He better start getting a lot better, and fast, to live up to this Paul George-ish hype.”

      Paul George is 24 years old, and his breakout came in the past year. It’s laughable that you’re outright dismissing it when it’s certainly within the range of possibilities for a player of Leonard’s potential. Aside from that, the Spurs have a great nucleus of players (including a couple future HOFers) and one of the greatest coaches of the modern era, which enhances the dude’s chances in a way that would not necessarily occur with another franchise.

      Kawhi Leonard is young, talented, and from the looks of it, a student of the game who works diligently to improve his craft. His odds are pretty good. Reminds me of a young Shawn Marion presently.

      • showtime1911 - Jun 13, 2014 at 8:44 AM

        U idioits he is only 22 look it up.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 13, 2014 at 5:21 PM

        Paul George never really had a breakout. Fans really wanted him to take his game to an elite level, and he never did.

        And George is much more of a natural scorer – he likes scoring points. That’s why he’s already in commercials, and what have you, because in this league points = stardom and endorsements.

        Leonard is just not that type of player. 18 points is a lot for him.

        Now, I’m not saying he’s a bad player. He’s a good player. But he’s not “unbelievable” superstar material. I think the player you see now is not going to be much different than the guy you’ll see when he’s 25.

      • tuberippin - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:13 PM

        “Paul George never really had a breakout. Fans really wanted him to take his game to an elite level, and he never did.”

        Okay, but he’s still an elite talent. He’s one of the very best players at his position. That’s not elite? Sure, he’s not LeBron or Durant, but there are only so many players of that rare, generational caliber that it’s straight-up unfair to compare others to them. It’s like comparing apples to oranges.

        P.S., Roy Hibbert (and Detlef Schrempf, and Roy Hibbert) were all making TV appearances on Parks and Rec before they ever broke out. And yes, I would call a continued evolution of one’s game to the level that casual fans take notice…I would call that a breakout.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:59 PM

        No, I don’t think Paul George is elite. Not yet. He has to take one more step up on offense.

    • loungefly74 - Jun 13, 2014 at 8:48 AM

      well…1 more win gives Leonard a title at his young age. not bad having that on your resume. that experience may propel him the lengthy career on what is already a promising start. Spurs fans feel good about that as he contributes to his team’s success. but you wouldn’t know anything about that since you do not have a team…and only follow Lebron. wow. okay. its amazing when you add that info to your posts…they mean even less. no cred.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 13, 2014 at 5:47 PM

        You’re missing the point. I’m only talking about whether Kawhi Leonard is “superstar” material as some are projecting him to be. Someone tried to group him with Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant.

        I’m saying that these expectations for him are wildly unrealistic.

    • kavika6 - Jun 13, 2014 at 9:32 AM

      Leonard is only 22 and later this week he’ll have only 1 less Finals MVP than Lebron.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 13, 2014 at 5:51 PM

        Leonard is going to be 23 in 15 days. 23 is no longer “young” in the NBA. It’s young-ish. 26 is going to be on him in a flash.

    • bucrightoff - Jun 13, 2014 at 9:36 AM

      He’s already an elite defender, maybe the best individually in the league, he shoots it at nearly 50% from the field and 40% from deep. Keep letting LeBron’s nuts blind you to reality.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 13, 2014 at 6:00 PM

        He isn’t anywhere near being the best individual defender in the league and 12 ppg at 50% isn’t anything special. That’s reality.

    • bbbmf - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:27 AM

      anti – is this a serious post or are you just trolling? Leonard has been crucial to the Spurs’ success all year – you may not see him on the highlight reel every night but if you actually watch them [the Spurs] without blinders you’d see the quality of his game. So many intangibles – he’s like a new and improved Paul Pressey.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 13, 2014 at 6:07 PM

        You’re missing the point. There is a difference between being crucial to a team’s success and whether or not that same player is superstar/franchise player material.

        My comments are pointed towards those who think Leonard is the next superstar SF – not towards people who think Leonard is a good player, because I also think Leonard is a good player.

    • asimonetti88 - Jun 13, 2014 at 11:09 AM

      He’s about to have a Finals MVP by the end of the weekend. How long did it take LeBron to get that?

      • antistratfordian - Jun 13, 2014 at 6:11 PM

        Once LeBron also had the benefit of playing with hall of fame teammates it took him one season. Is Leonard even trying?

      • gostlcards5 - Jun 19, 2014 at 1:40 PM

        Actually, bro…it took him 2 seasons.

  2. ihavenonickname - Jun 13, 2014 at 4:40 AM

    He reminds me most of young Scottie pippen

    • chicagosports2014 - Jun 13, 2014 at 8:42 AM

      Go Spurs! 👍

  3. rrhoe - Jun 13, 2014 at 7:52 AM

    It is so refreshing to see a current day NBA player with so much humility.

  4. ocgunslinger - Jun 13, 2014 at 10:46 AM

    Leonard is one of the hottest NBA properties right now. Wish he could be on the team I support but he will be a Spur for life.

    • bball242322 - Jun 13, 2014 at 1:28 PM

      meh property isn’t really the right word there. Better word choice. makes it seems like the NBA “owns” Leonard

  5. Bryce - Jun 13, 2014 at 11:18 AM

    It was very refreshing to watch the heat get spanked again. Loving how the Spurs are playing right now! Diaw and Leonard should share the Finals MVP provided another victory.

  6. bugsygod - Jun 13, 2014 at 4:22 PM

    Leonard is 22 not 23…..http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/6450/kawhi-leonard

  7. irvfin3 - Jun 13, 2014 at 9:35 PM

    I’ve been saying this Kawhi is a future All Star Spurs got lucky trading for him let him become a good shooter at least he will be a major threat

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