The Continued Evolution Of Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard entered the 2011 NBA Draft with relatively little fanfare. A majority of the attention was directed towards Kyrie Irving, who went first overall to the Cavaliers, while Derrick Williams, Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette and the Morris twins were nice secondary stories.

Leonard had been projected by many to be drafted in the top 10, but he slipped to the 15th pick when the Pacers selected him. He was then traded to the Spurs for George Hill.

On the podium, minutes after his draft selection, Leonard appeared confused about the type of role he would play in Indiana until he was informed that he was traded to the Spurs.

“I had a meeting with them, and I got a great vibe from them”, Leonard said of the Spurs last June. “Just any team I’m on, I’m happy with right now. I’m just going in, trying to do whatever the coach wants me to do to make the team successful.”

On December 26, Leonard earned the trust of Gregg Popovich by scoring six points and six rebounds against the Grizzlies in 14 minutes. Since then, his playing time has steadily increased. He averaged 28.2 minutes in March, and 21.2 in April while contributing 11.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.7 steals.

He is far from an offensive threat, but in true San Antonio fashion, they haven’t asked him to step outside of his comfort zone. He fits very nicely into what Popovich has done this season, but there may come a time when his stature will be a problem. Leonard is too small to bang with a traditional power forward, and if asked to score more as a power forward, he won’t be nearly as efficient.

An injury to Manu Ginobili opened up a spot in the starting lineup in early January, and Leonard has handled the promotion well. He was featured a bit more offensively as a starter, attempting more shots (8.0 compared to his previous 4.9) in eight more minutes of playing time.

This new role involved playing tougher defense, hitting a few perimeter shots and crashing the boards. Leonard grabs a higher percentage of offensive rebounds than Tim Duncan (8.4% to 7.7%), rarely turns the ball over, and has a low usage rate for someone with an above-average PER (17.0). Leonard also has the second best defensive rating among San Antonio’s starters.

In this year’s playoffs, Leonard is averaging 8.2 points and 4.2 rebounds in a reserve role for the Spurs. His impact was felt in the series against the Clippers, in which he averaged 10.6 points and 6.3 rebounds. During that series, he was often matched up against Chris Paul for defensive purposes. Paul struggled with Leonard guarding him, averaging only 8 points and 8 assists; 9.7 points less than his averages against the Grizzlies in the first round, which stood at 17.7 points.

If the evolution of Leonard continues at this current rate, he can potentially be seen as this generation’s Bruce Bowen.

Under Popovich’s leadership, Leonard is on his way to NBA stardom, and continues to validate why he was the steal of the 2011 NBA Draft with each passing game.

A Coaches Admiration For Popovich

I hope you had a chance to see the San Antonio Spurs close out the LA Clippers this weekend in Los Angeles.

I know, I know, if you are on the East coast, you could not stay up to finish it out, the game started at 10:30 and you had work the next day. But, if you missed it, you missed a clinic, once again.

Starting with their strongest link, Tim Duncan, who has shown everyone that he’s not about to hang up his grips just yet San Antonio goes ten deep.

Give the Clippers some credit though; they have added another strong NBA team to the city of Los Angeles.

As for the Spurs, they just keep on rolling winning their 18th straight game (eight straight in the playoffs). I came to a conclusion last night; Gregg Popovich has to be talked about (if he’s not already) when discussing the best NBA coaches of all-time.

I really do not like talking about the best this or the best that, but Pop’s name needs to be thrown in the conversation.

Taking over as coach of the Spurs in 1996, Popovich is the longest tenured coach in the NBA. On his watch, the Spurs have won four championships as head coach of the Spurs. Only four coaches in the history of the game have collected more rings (Phil Jackson 11, Red Auerbach 9, John Kundla 5, and Pat Riley with 5). Jackson is the only coach out of the four to have a higher regular season winning percentage than Pop. There’s a chance Pop might win his fifth ring in a couple of weeks.

Pop has a formula; a philosophy that players buy into. If you don’t like it, you can hit the exit. Matter of fact, you may not even make it into camp.

The Spurs have been known to do their homework on players due to their great staff behind the scenes. He has a special talent on how to develop role players; to get guys to play for the team, not-self.

Someone who knows about the Spurs organization once told me, “Pop is the best at dealing with people.”

As for his X’s and O’s, just watch a Spurs game; keep an eye on what they do out of a timeout (that’s a sign of a very good coach). I watched them execute a splendid play for a basket out of a timeout last night at a crucial part of the game. They do it often.

Pop has a system, it’s a process and he holds people accountable to both. His past success provides credibility and most of all, his best players allow for all of it to happen.

I recall reading a quote from Pop a few years ago that sums it all up: “I don’t want to come to practice every day and have to coach jerks.”

To conclude, the Spurs are 29-2 in their last 31 games. And not one expert picked them to win it all?

Podcast: 2012 NBA Playoffs Preview

After nearly a year, the Hoops Addict Podcast is back on a regular basis. I’ve linked up with Mark Cheel with the intention of bringing back the Podcast on a weekly basis and we started with a preview of the 2012 NBA Playoffs.

Mark and I break down why Atlanta can give Boston a scare, we debate if Utah’s frontcourt can muscle San Antonio out of the playoffs, we lament that the Clippers lack of a strong coach will result in Blake Griffin and Chris Paul not lasting as long as they should in the playoffs as well as the rest of the first round match-ups.

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Here’s the MP3 of the Podcast if you want to download it.