For quite some time now, folks familiar with the San Antonio Spurs have known Kawhi Leonard is the real deal. Despite his stellar performance in the 2013 NBA Finals, it took a career performance from him in Game 3 of this year’s championship series for the rest of the world to notice. Hopefully everyone took note because that represented what the Spurs will look like in the future.
As much fun as it is for everyone to poke fun at the Spurs for being “old,” the team has actually gone through a youth movement over the past few years to ensure the franchise is in good shape once Tim Duncan retires, which could be next week depending on how the remaining games in these Finals go. Despite those age jokes, the reality is Duncan is truly nearing the end of his career and someone will have to step up once he’s gone.
Leonard is already an elite defender in the NBA — he was robbed of a first-team NBA All-Defensive Team vote — and will be recognized as such for a long time to come. However, he’s very good on offense as well, something the Miami Heat learned the hard way during the Spurs’ 19-point victory in South Beach on Tuesday night.
Now Leonard isn’t going to start scoring 29 points while shooting 77 percent on a nightly basis, but his aggressive drives to the basket and confident jump shots will become a staple of San Antonio’s offense in the near future.
Unless Tiago Splitter develops some courage soon, the Spurs’ offense won’t have a reliable post option to settle down the offense during shooting slumps once Duncan is gone. Of course, Gregg Popovich will bring in someone via free agency or the NBA Draft to fix that, but to expect that new player to replace Duncan right off the bat from a reliability standpoint is absurd.
Thus, Leonard will become a go-to guy alongside Tony Parker while the Spurs go through yet another transition during their “rebuilding without rebuilding” process that keeps them in contention while revamping their roster and style of play.
Much like Paul George became an NBA superstar seemingly overnight, Leonard will soon do the same, although he won’t be nearly as popular because he doesn’t say much or appear in commercials dunking the ball and screaming into the camera with a sports drink pouring from his veins.
However, he does the three things required to play for the Spurs and be a true star (not a glitzy, wannabe star) in this ever-changing basketball league: play defense, be smart and fundamentally-sound on offense, and leave any ego at the door. Get used to the name Kawhi Leonard, folks; you’re going to be hearing it for a long time.
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