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).