After the San Antonio Spurs’ victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, from a numbers perspective, a change occurred.
Spurs sophomore Kawhi Leonard’s 23 points in the victory over the Hawks put him as the third leading scorer on the Spurs team with 12.1 points per game. For one night, Manu Ginobili (11.9 points) was no longer the third leading scorer in San Antonio.
With Ginobili only playing 59 of 75 games this season thus far due to countless injuries, Leonard has started to initiate himself more in the offense. Two weeks ago, Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl said his staff had taken notice of Leonard, though Karl felt Leonard’s breakout season will be coming next season.
“We’re big fans,” said Karl of Leonard before the Spurs defeated the Nuggets 100-99 on March 27.
“We actually had this discussion the other day – Pop has this way of elevating guys into stardom. I don’t think he’ll get there this year but I have a feeling he’ll have a more major part in the carousel of superstars that come out of San Antonio.”
Against the Nuggets, Leonard posted 11 points, seven rebounds, and two steals that night. Karl discussed what makes Leonard such a rare product at his young age.
“Early in his career, it’s his tenacity. He plays at a high level. He’s a high engine guy,” said Karl. “He’s a good defensive player who has the passion to be a factor in different ways. He has a commitment to any possession that very few players have.”
What sets Leonard apart from other young players in the NBA? The fact that Leonard is playing on a team that could win the Western Conference with its three stars still available.
“He’s contributing on a winning team. I have a lot of respect for him. There are a lot of guys who can put up numbers on losing teams,” continued Karl, “but he’s putting up numbers on a team that has to win 55 to 60 games.”
Not since 2003, had any player other than Stephen Jackson (11.3 points) held the third leading scorer position over Ginobili.
As the regular season is showing, Leonard’s already making the jump in his second season and for a few days; he’s officially the Spurs’ third leading scorer behind Tony Parker and Tim Duncan.
The next step for Leonard is to see whether he will continue to assert himself like he’s done lately when both Parker and Ginobili return to the lineup presumably in the NBA playoffs. Will Leonard make the Spurs a legitimate “Big 4”, or will he sway back into his role player role when the other two guards return?
Only late April, May, and possibly June will tell.
Still don't like Karl after all that complaining and crying he had to do about Manu in the 2005 playoffs that gave Manu his flopping reputation when Manu was owning them. By the way it's not a Big 4 anymore. I think we need to start relying less on Manu anymore. I think he has become part of the Big 3.
I personally think we need this guy to average 15 to 20 points in the playoffs for us to win the championship, if he does that and duncan, parker, and ginobili are themselves we have more than a chance to win it.
@isaacd35 Manu has struggled too much this year to count him, i think Leonard needs to be the 3rd option, he needs to step it up in the playoffs
If thats the case, than we are in trouble, Because there is nobody that can make up for what ginobili gives us on both sides of the court.
When two teams are so evenly matched, it only takes one game from one player to take over, to be the difference in a series, and without manu, Tim, tony and kawhi are on their own and that won't be enough to get us past the second round, no matter how much you downplay it ginobili is a big part of the team, he makes the second team run smooth, and these last couple of games the bench has been subpar at best.
@isaacd35 I remember that game and i also remember it was just one game, last year mike miller took over a game and won one game for the heat but im talking doing that an entire series. Too win a 7 games series against the best you need to perform at that the entire playoffs not one game. He shouldn't have spent this summer playing in the olympics and chose to rehab his body like Duncan did...
I'm Talkng about the impact he has on the game when hes healthy, just last year the 34 year old man scored 34 points in game 5 and single handedly kept the spurs in the game, so if it wasn't for him we would have been blown out. What i'm saying is if he isn't healthy, were not going to make it past the second round which means were in trouble. Now do you know what I'm talking about?
@isaacd35 You talking about his 11 points a game when he isnt hurt, I love Manu but he is done. I wish players can stay stars after they turn 35 but that isnt the case with Manu...Spursf ans need to understand Manu is the highest paid spurs that brings the least...
He will be a huge star in the league, his only downside he looks scared to take the game over. He is on the best team to just break out and take the game over due to our unselfish stars. I feel we havent even seen the tip of his potential just yet. Lets hope we lock him up long term.