San Antonio Spurs second-year forward Kawhi Leonard is turning heads in Las Vegas right now. The Spurs Summer League team features the regular season starting small forward.
In his first two Summer League games, Leonard is averaging 25 points per game and he isn't getting those points from standing in the corner. Leonard's role as a ball handler has expanded even as his first two games have gone on. He's also more vocal on the court. And by that I mean he missed a shot the other night and he yelled a couple of obscenities back to back. Guys, Kawhi does in fact cuss.
Before Summer League started, Leonard, along with Spurs forward DeJuan Blair, spent a week as members of USA Basketball's Select Team that practiced and scrimmaged against the Men's National Team to help get them prepared for the London Olympics.
Leonard talked about the experience after Sunday's games versus the Atlanta Hawks. He called the experience fun and that going up against the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant gave him more confidence. Jacques Vaughn, his Summer League Head Coach, said he thinks Kawhi learned a lot from his time with the Select Team even if Leonard doesn't completely realize it himself.
"I think any time an individual gets to be put in to a situation where he’s surrounded by greatness really on every day basis, even if it’s for a short amount of time there’s osmosis I guess and you sense how hard guys are and how competitive and good guys are," Vaughn said. "I think it drives you and it pushes you to be at that level. So I think that week for him was great.”
The summer so far really couldn't have gone better for Leonard. He spent a week working with some of the best players in the world, learning from them, going up against them daily, presumably holding his own.
Then he went straight to Summer League, where he gets to try some things free of real consequences. Summer League is more about the process than the outcome. So instead of having to wait months to try out some new things and use this boost of confidence he gained from the Team USA experience, Leonard gets to go right back to work. It almost makes me wish DeJuan Blair would've been a member of the Spurs Summer League squad too, though having him be the focal point of an offense is less of a good idea because it's not something the Spurs will ever need to replicate in the regular season.
Leonard as a primary ball handler and scorer isn't always pretty yet, but this is a process. 27 points and eight rebounds Tuesday against the Lakers was the latest piece of evidence that that the process is working so far. That process continues Wednesday when the Spurs take on the CP3's Los Angeles Clippers (sort of) and then Thursday when they face the NBA Champion Miami Heat (well, something like that).
I've said it before... and I'll say it again...
Kawhi is the Franchise in 3 years. He will be a superstar in 3 years.
I'm still laughing at Trevor Zickgraf saying he was merely a "better shooting Tony Allen" lmao
@russman138 Better shooting Bruce Bowen might be like it, and I'm a huge Bowen fan!
Where is Kawhi's ceiling though? I don't even think I can see it?
(jokes aside, he'll never be an elite scorer or passer most likely but could be an above average scorer and passer and elite rebounder and defender. The future of the game right now looks to be crazy athletes at the 3 and having a guys like Leonard is AMAZIN' and gives me hope for THE FUTURE!!)
@russman138 Look, I think I said it in March, when all they did was plant him in the corner. I've definitely turned the corner now, especially after seeing him in person in Vegas. He's capable of much more.
@yowhatupT I can understand that -- not to be rude I just expected someone of this blog who follows the Spurs up close and personal to see the work ethic and tools that he's had since high school and see that his potential lies somewhere in the stratosphere.
He has the potential to be an all around player and transcend to superstar status in a way that is uncharacteristic of young great players - using great defense and good offense.
He is defense first but without a doubt has the tools to be something fantastic offensively. Same can't be said for other forwards like Durant/LeBron/Mello who should all have been lock down defenders from the get-go but instead opted for great offense and good defense (or in the case of Mello, no defense). When it comes to Kawhi, don't see any facet of his game going stagnant because his basketball IQ, maturity level and work ethic is (and always has been) impressive. So things like passing and court vision will come if he wants it to come, and I have no doubt in his determination, drive and will to become the greatest basketball player he can become.
Remember he was born around the time MJ won his first championship; he has 5 - 7 years before he is considered to be in his "prime".
@russman138 No I see what you're saying. Was just a little confused at first. I could absolutely see him making at least a couple All-Star games.
@Spursfan66 @yowhatupT Spursfan -- you didn't mention defense at all, and my point was that Durant and LeBron BOTH have tools to be great defensively but simply don't have the will or determination to do so. They are scorers. I was never saying Kawhi would have to be as good a scorer as LeBron or Durant to be a superstar.. and that was my very point! Using GREAT defense and good offense... Kawhi will be a superstar in my very humble opinion.
Kawhi also has GAWDY length although Durant has a couple inches on him in both height and wingspan. But again, this is my very point. Durant should be known as a lock-down defender but instead he's just a great scorer.
Kawhi WILL be known as a great defender and within a few years, probably won't be too shabby at putting the ball in the basket either.
Jumping ability? His max vertical was 33 inches I believe? Compared to Durant's 34, maybe? That is ur biggest concern?
That was a very weird response -- I feel like you didn't read anything I wrote but it's all good.
@yowhatupT Not at all - I was actually trying to make the point that he will be just as good (if not better) defensively than those guys.
Great defense/good offense = Kawhi
Great offense/good defense = Other Superstars
I was trying to say that I truly believe Kawhi will rise to All-Star status in a few years when his offense is developed even more and by that time -- he should be one of the best perimeter defenders in the league as well.
I don't care how crazy I sound -- mark my words!!!!
@yowhatupT @russman138 lol ya yo,although I too really think KL is going to be good, I think expectations should also be tempered a bit. Its pretty unlikely he's going to be Durant or LBJ 2.0. We need to keep in mind that both of those guys have tools that KL simply doesn't. Durant has that gawdy length + FAR above average shooting AND clutchness. While LBJ is just an athletic freak with the build of a linebacker AND off the charts athleticism. One of my main concerns about KL is the fact that he scored 2nd worst (I think) at draft combine in jumping ability. Unfortunately, that's unlikely to improve much..ya I don't doubt it can improve a BIT with some work, just not much. Personally, I will be MORE than satisfied with even1 or 2 All-star appearances, but even if that doesnt happen, I have no doubt he will be quite good.
@russman138 No worries. I never questioned his work ethic or ability to get better, It just seemed like in March that was his trajectory because of how his placement in the Spurs offense (not to mention to non-stop comparisons to Bowen). The other part of the equation is that the Spurs have had a guy of Kawhi's individual talents in so long that it was incredibly easy for a lot of us, myself included, to understate a guy like Kawhi's ability to grow. Seriously, the last non-international lottery talent the Spurs got was Tim Duncan, a once in a generation guy. I'm still curious to see him work on some of these moves in the regular season, but yeah, I'm happy to say it looks like he's going to be better than Tony Allen with a jump shot.
Also, just want to be clear, you're not implying he's going to become LeBron/Durant good, right?