Every few years the NBA gets a young stellar talent that pushes the envelope further than expected, but the 15th overall pick of the 2011 draft has situated himself to become one of the most important players of his generation.
Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs has been exemplary so far in his career; two-time Defensive Player of the Year, NBA Champion, and Finals MVP – all by the age of 25.
But what is it that draws us towards San Antonio’s new star?
Maybe it’s the fact that he netted a reported $94 million dollar contract in 2015, yet spends his summers in a 2-bedroom apartment and prefers to drive his 20-year-old SUV instead of his Porsche.
Kawhi exhibits that classic Spurs-brand of leadership & humbleness, a lot like Tim Duncan, and goes toe-to-toe with the likes of LeBron James & Steph Curry.
Spurs legendary coach Gregg Popovich says of Kawhi:
“He wants to be a good player, I mean a great player. He comes in early, he stays late, he’s coachable, he’s just like a sponge. I think he’s going to be a star. And as time goes on, he’ll be the face of the Spurs, I think. At both ends of the court, he is really a special player. And what makes me be so confident about him is that he wants it so badly.”
Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs recently visited the Kings in Sacramento last week; Leonard recorded 30 points, 5 assists, and 5 steals that game.
The most revealing aspect of this game came afterwards as DeMarcus Cousins made an interesting comment during the post game interview:
“That dude’s good, man. [Expletive], he’s good. He’s really good. He was hitting shots over two guys. I mean, I heard he was working with Kobe, and there was some flashes of Kobe in there. He’s really good.”
Bryant and Leonard did work over the summer, which supports the emerging star narrative that much more enticing. What does it mean to be an NBA star in this day in age? Well, in a league now jam-packed with talent, there is a list of about ten legitimate superstars.
In no particular order:
LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook,
Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Paul George, Damian Lillard.
These players all bring their own style and bag of skills to the game, but no one brings what “The Claw” brings. Heir to the Spurs dynasty, Leonard has been molded by Coach Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili.
He’s already an NBA Champion and his game just keeps growing. Popovich says of Kawhi’s progression:
“He basically tells me what he wants to do now. I mean, he’ll take the ball and send the screener away. He’ll decide if he wants to go one-on-one with no screen, no pick. He is much more demonstrative, looks for his shots more. He knows he’s got a green light, and I think that’s the difference.”
Demonstrative on the court, humble essentially everywhere else.
Perhaps the most captivating aspect of Kawhi Leonard is that he doesn’t boast or seem to yearn for the limelight. He doesn’t complain when things do not go his way. He doesn’t feed into the hype that the world inevitably creates and throws his way. Instead, he goes to work and gets the job done.
Patty Mills, Spurs guard, speaks on Kawhi’s game:
“We can give the ball to Leonard and almost get out of the way and let him go to work. That development over the years and that confidence and that player that he has become, it’s real pleasing to watch. To know he’s on your team is also very pleasing, especially at the end of games or when you need a score or when you need to get to the FT line, he’s the guy that can do that. We’ve never had that for a while, so it’s a great weapon to have.”
A great weapon indeed.
Only time will tell how far our Humble Star will rise, but one thing is for certain. Leonard is revolutionizing what we understand an NBA star to be.
It is only a couple weeks into the 2016-2017 season and it wouldn’t be farfetched to start thinking about a possible regular season MVP run. No $10,000 dollar pre game/post game outfits, no signature shoes. Just ball.