By Andrew Lang
San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard was a critical cog in the Spurs championship team last year taking home the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award. What should scare opponents is that Leonard hasn’t reached his ceiling yet.
Leonard was recognized for his defensive ability guarding LeBron James in last year’s NBA Finals. LeBron still put up fantastic numbers but the tape shows Leonard was doing about as much as anyone can do to stop James.
Leonard has emerged as one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. He leads the league in steals per game and ranks 18th in defensive win shares despite only having played 49 games. Only two players ahead of him have played less than 60 games. Leonard also has the second lowest defensive rating in the league behind only Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors. Leonard is so tenacious on defense, many have sung his praise on that end including Grantland writer Zach Lowe.
“He’s the unofficial captain of my Mirror Guy team for defenders who move in such precise concert with their marks that it almost looks as if the offensive player is working against a reflection of himself,” Lowe wrote in a March 17th article.
The scary part is Leonard is still improving on the offensive end. Leonard has upped his point totals every year since he entered the league. In his rookie year, Leonard averaged 7.9 points per game. This year he averages 15.7 per game. In eight games this month, he has averaged 19.5 points per game shooting 53.2% from the field and 40.9% from deep.
Leonard does all of this despite not acting like the first option on offense much of the time. Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili all have a higher usage rate than Leonard.
Leonard has improved his ability to create for himself too. Leonard has been assisted on 55.3% of his makes this season. During the 2012-13 season he was assisted on 65.4% of his makes.
Leonard has been producing this year but Leonard still has not reached his ceiling. Leonard has solid size at 6’7 and has shown good athleticism as well. He has the physical tools to dominate. Leonard will not be losing those tools anytime soon as he is only 23 years old. He is already a terrific defender and rebounder, averaging 7.3 rebounds per game. Every year he keeps improving across the board.
Before long Leonard will be a superstar in the NBA. His contract is up at the end of the year. He will be a restricted free agent, so it seems likely that the Spurs will retain him. Leonard is set to emerge as a star in the final act of Tim Duncan’s career and take the mantle as the superstar of the Spurs for years to come.
All statistics and information from basketball.reference.com unless otherwise specified.