Future Is Now With Spurs’ Leonard

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SAN ANTONIO — The future of the San Antonio Spurs came roaring toward Kendrick Perkins like a runaway tractor trailer with no brakes.

First, Kawhi Leonard swiped the ball out of the hands of Russell Westbrook; then, he hit the gas pedal while accelerating across the 3-point line; finally, he lifted off and planted a tomahawk dunk in the middle of Perkins’ forehead.

It was a play that took five seconds from origin to YouTube clip, giving the Spurs an explosive lift toward their 105-92 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder and, more importantly, a glimpse of what they’ll need if the anticipated Western Conference Finals rematch occurs in a couple of months.

You never read too much into any one game over the course of the long NBA regular season. OKC was playing its fourth game in five nights. The Spurs were rebounding from having their tail stuck in a 30-point blender the last time out against Portland. If there was ever a time for San Antonio to make one last heroic hold on the No. 1 playoff seed without injured point guard and fire-starter Tony Parker, this was it.

Yet, there was a peek at how the Spurs could turn around last season’s playoff flop when they let a 2-0 lead over the Thunder in the playoffs turn into four straight sets of tire tracks down their backs.

Tiago Splitter plundered the Thunder on the inside for 21 points and 10 rebounds. Danny Green went 4-for-4 from behind the 3-point line for 16 points. Leonard finished with 17 while also keeping Kevin Durant as bottled up as seems humanly possible at the other end of the floor.

They’re the three players who shrunk like a cotton shirt thrown into the dryer a year ago in the playoffs.

“They’re maturing right in front of our eyes,” said team captain Tim Duncan.

Maybe no one more than Leonard. Virtually from the time the Spurs made the deal on draft night in 2011 to get Leonard as the No. 15 pick, coach Gregg Popovich has been calling him the “future face of the franchise.”

Pop, of course, is talking about the days when the only place the three-headed monster of Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili is hanging around the AT&T Center is up in the rafters with their retired jerseys.

However, it’s the long and strong Leonard who could give the the Spurs the boost they need in another series with the younger and more athletic Thunder if he continues to move forward and asserts himself.

Nobody in this league or on this planet is going to stop Durant from getting his points. The idea is to make him work for every single one.

“It  has nothing to do with Kevin Durant,” said Popovich. “It’s got to do with who Kawhi Leonard is. He guards the 3s. He guards the  people who are the difficult matchups on the other team. He’s our so called stopper-in-training. So, it doesn’t matter what team we’re playing. That’s the guy he’s going to take.”

At the same time, Leonard is showing growth at the offensive end to be more than the second-year player who just picks up the scraps left by his All-Star teammates. In the four games since Parker has been sidelined, Leonard has bumped his scoring up from 11.2 to 15.3 per game and his shooting has risen from .493 to .519.

“He just plays the game,” Popovich said. “You don’t  go to a player  and say, ‘You will score X number of points and we’re going to run these plays for you to make up Tony’s points.’ You don’t know how points are going to get made up. People step up. He just matures. You never know — a three-wheeler to a two-wheeler.”

Leonard is no longer just lurking the corners, waiting for the ball to find him for a wide-open jumper. He’s taking it and he’s making things happen without pausing to think about deferring.

“He’s been playing in the middle of the court as much as on the baseline,” Popovich said. “He’s been doing what he feels is available to him, what the defense allows. He’s just becoming more aggressive in a variety of situations. It doesn’t matter where he is on the court, we want him to think about being an aggressive scorer and he’s developed that very quickly for a young guy.”

The Spurs had been hit with a 32-22 blast in the first quarter by OKC when their young guns went to work. None with more of an explosive flash than Leonard, confidently drilling a 16-footer, a 21-footer, a 3 from out of the corner and then making the steal and hammering home the dunk on Perkins. He was 4-for-5 with a couple of rebounds in the 33-9 eruption that smothered OKC.

“You can’t coach it into somebody,” said Popovich. “There are some guys who want to take shots; want to step up when the lights get brighter. Some guys don’t and you find out who they are, but he’s one of those guys. Just like Tony Parker, who was 19 years old when we gave him the ball, and he could handle it. Kawhi is one of those guys.”

Who could hold the Spurs’ long and short term future in his hands.

32 Comments

  1. Hey there, You’ve done an excellent job. I’ll certainly digg it and in my view recommend to my friends. I’m sure they’ll be benefited from this site.

  2. ko0kiE says:

    what’s not to like about him? all-star potential…

  3. dink says:

    this guys a horse , he can lock down any small forward in the league , that go’s for you too LeBron you clown

  4. Game Time says:

    The NBA should just have Pop coach all the young upcoming stars. What how good the league gets.

  5. Duke says:

    Parker getting injured will help SA in the playoffs because the younger guys are getting more playing time and they are learning that being aggressive leads to a more confident shooter, defender etc. I think when Parker returns..the Spurs will be hard even harder to beat.

  6. merkin says:

    Fran: Leonard did not shrink “like a cotton shirt” in last yr’s series vs. OKC, but Splitter and Greed did. Leonard played quite well during all the playoff series.

    • murloc says:

      Merk, I think Fran has a point. Leonard had a good game 2 (18 pts) but after that i think his best performace was 5 pts 2 rebounds. But the entire young guns did get blinded by the bright lights, the pressure of closing out being up 2-0 and playing a very good Thunders team. Also Pop really shrunk his rotation which i think was partially to blame. Yes it is the norm to play tighter rotation but what got us to the WCF was our deep rotation…. the big 3 cannot carry this team anymore we will need Leonard, Green, Splitter and Neal to contribute in order to get back to the finals.

  7. Karlo Garcia says:

    I like how the Spurs play regardless who’s in the line up or not.

  8. Hayder Y says:

    There isn’t a more perfect home for Leonard, I am really glad he landed in the hands of Greg Popovich. This kid has a great future ahead of him.

  9. Ariel20 says:

    With the development of Leonard and the rest of the young guys in Spurs, it made me realize the sad part about it, Duncan and Ginobili is about to end their playing days with the Spurs. Sigh. How i wish we could still see them for at least a decade, but that’s impossible. Parker will be around a little longer than the two guys above. We’ll just wish that when they retire, we could see them visiting the game, sitting together, the best 4 of 00’s Spurs, DUNCAN, GINOBILI, PARKER and BOWEN. Yeah, I missed Bowen already.

  10. LALA says:

    They mean to say Bruce bowen 2.0

  11. iSHAQ or SHAQTOLOGY says:

    its hard to predict the Playoffs of the Spurs,
    two seasons ago they ran out of gas…

    Spurs pls get Enes Kanter from Jazz to be trained by Timmy…
    Kanter has potentials,
    Kawhi Leonard will be traded to Luol Deng for back up of Manu.

    Paul Millsap will be available this summer, hope to play for contender…

    • Random Guy says:

      @iSHAQ or SHAQTOLOGY

      I get the “Kanter” part but trading Leonard for Deng? Are you even thinking straight? Potential wise, Leonard has got a very high ceiling compared to Deng. In fact if I’m not mistaken, Deng is already in his prime. While Leonard is an upcoming talent, his also much younger compared to Deng. So why add more mileage to a team that already is battered with mileage with the likes of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker?

      And the Millsap part? I don’t see this happening for the Spurs don’t really have the cap flexibility to sign a player like Millsap. With the volatile luxury tax because of the current CBA, low market teams(And I’m not saying that San Antonio is a low-market team) wouldn’t even dare pursue high-profile stars IF they’re not willing to pay extra dollars by getting over the luxury tax.

    • Mark says:

      Kawhi Leonard won’t be traded.

  12. jake s says:

    I actually think the okc-spurs game would have been closer had parker actually played. Spurs have crazy upswings coming off of a loss. It’s crazy how you can lose to the worst team in the western conference one night, and beat the best team in the western conference the next.

    • Marwin says:

      They beat the 2nd best team in the west ;)

    • B-Baller says:

      Right, Because the Blazers are the worst team in the west? Inconsistent yes, but not the worst team. Scoring 40 points in one quarter against the top team in the league hardly allows a declaration of the worst team. But thanks for your hating, portland fans love it.

    • Bo says:

      Portland is bad, but they’re not even close to being the worst team in the West? Don’t exaggerate so badly, it makes you sound like an idiot.

    • Originally Me says:

      Dude … you really got to start respecting other teams. When you play the game of basketball, it doesn’t matter who your opponents are but you give it your all. FYI the trail blazers is not even close to being one of the worst teams of the western conference, even the best teams can lose to the worst teams so long as they don’t give it their all.

      Westbrook has to stop taking so many shots. He’s took nearly twice the number of shots that Durant took. 27 attempts lol…

      • DIRK-DURANT-KOBE-RONDO-WESTBROOK says:

        but what westbrook takes in shots, Durant goes to the line, but yeah this game especially; westbrook took a lot

    • daddykong says:

      Portland is not the worst team in the west

    • jim says:

      the blazers are not the worst team in the west they have a very solid starting 5 just one of the worst benchs in the nba but i understand what you mean

    • Ali says:

      I agree with everything except of course the idea that the Blazers are the worst team in the western conference. They’re obviously not. In fact, they still have a mathematical chance of making the playoffs. Aside from that, the Blazers always play the Spurs hard (the two teams’ all-time match-up record is almost even).

      I hate that Parker is injured, but it could be a blessing in disguise for the Spurs. The young guys can step up, improve their games and get a lot of confidence before playoff time.

    • alex says:

      true; let’s see how they do in this back to back

    • what can you say? the ball is round….anything can happen

    • Technically, based on the standings, the Spurs were the best team in the western conference before this game. So they just beat the second best team to prove that they are still the best in the western conference.

    • Edub says:

      Portland isn’t the worst team in the west though. They’re not even that bad of a team.

    • what are u saying..... says:

      the best team in the western conference right now is the SPURS not OKC, look at how they have been playing throughout the season and even without tony and putting aside that first quarter they dominated.

    • dondonscreek says:

      that’s Spurs! that’s the art of Popobitch. master of placing and phasing :)

    • jake s says:

      woops srry guys i meant the suns… not blazers