Six years ago, Kawhi Leonard entered the NBA Draft at 6-foot-7 with long arms and enormous hands. His physical traits alone made him a valuable draft pick.
The Draft Express said, “His profile strongly indicates that he’s destined to play a complementary role in the NBA, especially in his first few seasons.”
The San Antonio Spurs already had a deal to send George Hill to the Indiana Pacers for their 15th pick, but they didn’t even know who the Spurs had their eye on. The Pacers picked Kawhi Leonard – who was actually number 5 or 6 on their board. They decided to let him go since they already had Danny Granger and Paul George. Leonard had no idea he was about to be traded when he was announced with the Pacers. When Leonard signed his 2-year contract with the Spurs, he was making $11 million less than Hill. Today, he is on a 5-year $94 million contract.
Joining the Spurs, he was given the opportunity to learn from Future Hall of Famers Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. He fit perfectly into their slow-paced offense and rose to fame with ease. He came in as a small forward and has developed into an all-around star and pick-and-roll monster!
Kawhi Leonard has been called the “best basketball player in the world” by his coach, Gregg Popovich. Leonard is praised by the way he dominates on both ends of the court. Even Skip Bayless stated Kawhi Leonard is better than LeBron James, saying he is the best player in the NBA! Kawhi is a two-way player superstar who does it all with class.
There’s no doubt that Leonard might be one of the humblest players we know. One reporter asked him how he felt when Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley dubbed him the world’s second-best player in the world. Kawhi’s response?
“I didn’t hear, but it doesn’t matter. I’m trying to be the best team in the world right now. It’s not about me, it’s about the Spurs. And that’s all I wanna do.”
Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale joked that Leonard is a robot who doesn’t breathe and bleeds antifreeze. He even asked for suggestions on ways to defend him.
Leonard averaged 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals in 74 games for the 2016-17 season. In fact, he has stolen the ball more times than he has fouled other players! He’s had 705 steals and 697 fouls in his entire NBA career.
He also scored in double digits during each game he played this season! No Spurs player has accomplished this since David Robinson in 1994-45. Leonard’s scoring average has also improved with each season since joining the league. Only two other players in the last twenty years have improved their scoring average for six years straight, Joe Johnson and Michael Reed. On January 21, Leonard hit a career-high 41 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
This is the second year in a row that Kawhi Leonard was selected to join the All-NBA First Team. Leonard is also one of three players in NBA history to receive both two All-NBA First Team selections and two NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Leonard has won Defensive Player of the Year for the past two years in a row. He is a finalist again this year alongside Draymond Green and Rudy Gobert. If he wins, he will join Dwight Howard as the only player to win Defensive Player of the Year three years in a row.
Leonard is one of the three finalists for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award – along with Lebron James and Russel Westbrook. Leonard is definitely the true MVP this year. Of course, we are a little biased, but look at the numbers! Leonard leads both MVP contenders in true shooting percentage (70.1%), Player Efficiency Rating (35.1), win shares per 48 minutes (.377), and box-score plus minus (12.3).
There’s no doubt that Kawhi Leonard is a superstar. He basically became the new Tim Duncan for the Spurs following his retirement. If Kawhi hadn’t injured his ankle during playoffs, we all know the Spurs would be playing in the NBA Finals. This offseason, the Spurs need to focus on rehabilitation and injury prevention, and maybe next year, Kawhi Leonard will lead the Spurs to another NBA championship.