Quiet, humble, steady, fierce, aggressive, and lethal. Those six words don’t seem like they belong in the same sentence together. However, when it comes to describing San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, those six words fit together perfectly.
Kawhi Leonard was traded to San Antonio on draft night in 2011. The Spurs sent point guard George Hill to the Indiana Pacers for the 15th overall pick which the Spurs then used to select Kawhi Leonard. Leonard was a somewhat under appreciated prospect coming out of San Diego State University. Always known for his ability to defend and for his work ethic, many scouts didn’t know if he would ever develop offensively and many also questioned whether he had the passion and fire to be great. Since then, Kawhi has won two defensive player of the year awards and has finished in the top five for MVP voting the past two years in a row. Kawhi Leonard in my opinion is easily a top 5 player in the NBA.
You could make the argument that there is no player better conditioned physically than Leonard in the NBA today. You might even be able to argue that he is the best conditioned athlete in the four major sports. Kawhi Leonard brings a new meaning to the phrase “never takes a play off.” When this is said about Leonard, they mean it. There is absolutely zero wasted movements when he is out there on the floor. He always guards the opposing teams best offensive player while also carrying the load offensively most nights for his own team. That is more than most teams can say about their best player. LeBron often spends time guarding either his own position or a lesser offensive player. Klay Thompson always guards the opposing teams better of the two backcourt players while Steph Curry takes the easier assignment. Now that’s not a knock on Steph Curry or LeBron James but rather a testament to the greatness of Kawhi Leonard. Leonard will rarely, if ever, lose a game for his team. He always seems to make the right play and he has no problem taking the big shots. He never gets to hot or too cold out there on the floor. In today’s NBA with all the personalities and emphasis on entertainment, all Kawhi Leonard worries about is ball.
Watching Kawhi Leonard play basketball is truly a treat and if you haven’t seen him in action, you need to. Unfortuntately, we will all have to wait until next season or at least until the Olympics this summer to see Leonard play again. The Spurs were eliminated from the playoffs in game six of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Kawhi is a throwback player of sorts in the way that he always steps up to the toughest challenges every night and he challenges himself to do so. His scoring average has gone up every year that he’s been in the league and this year he set a career high in three-point percentage. So not only is Kawhi the best defender in the NBA, he has elevated his game to become one of the best offensive players in the NBA as well. Leonard is almost robot-like in the way he conducts himself on the court. His only focus is winning every game and anything outside of that takes a back seat. He’s not caught up in statistics or making a name for himself. He’s almost a mirror image of Tim Duncan in the way he conducts himself. So with Duncan probably preparing to retire very soon, who better to take his place as the Spurs franchise player than Kawhi Leonard. We all need to take a moment to appreciate his greatness. He has an unparalleled motor and desire to win. His work ethic is legendary; right up there with the Kobe Bryant’s and LeBron James’ of the world. We are all lucky to be around to watch this young star develop and get better each and every year and if all goes well, he will have a lot of rings and a lot of awards to show off when his career is all said and done. Then again, being the person he is, he might just toss them all in a shoe box and put them under his bed. Kawhi is Kawhi and we all need to appreciate the type of player he is. They don’t make players like Kawhi Leonard anymore. He is a rarity in the NBA today and it is truly great to see.