Kawhi Leonard is entering his second season as a member of the San Antonio Spurs, but you wouldn't guess that with the way he's carried himself.
Leonard has been part of a new trend within the team of allowing younger players to showcase their talents immediately over having them wait on the bench for a year. Leonard not only has impressed the fans so far in his young career but also has garnered the respect of head coach Gregg Popovich.
After the San Antonio Spurs squeaked by the Utah Jazz on Friday night, coach Pop had some words about Kawhi's improvements.
"Kawhi (Leonard) is a competitor. He's not afraid to shoot the ball,' said Popovich. "He knows he has a license to play. We went to him a couple of times down the stretch in regulation and he came through. He's a fine player."
When the team traded fan favorite George Hill for Leonard two seasons ago, they were expecting something closer to what Bruce Bowen used to be. We've been seeing a mature process out of Leonard, something that the Spurs have lacked in a starting small forward in years. Leonard has steadily improved into a solid overall player with some Bowen-like defense and also developing a game that was expected out of Richard Jefferson during his tenure in silver and black.
Kawhi's been averaging 11.7ppg on 49% shooting this season and shooting 37% from the 3-point line. His shooting is what has helped the Spurs stay atop of the Western Conference this season, even when Tony Parker was out with injury for three weeks. His game is versatile where he can spot up and shoot or handle the ball in transition or at the top of the key.
Leonard also gave an insight on his mindset on the court after the game.
"If I'm open I'm going to shoot the ball. I'm not thinking about what type of pressure is on the line at the time," Leonard said. "I'm just trying to get the team the win by getting to open spots and shooting the ball."
This is something that we haven't seen from this position in years. Unlike other plaers in his position, Leonard is looking to get a clean look and take the shot without hesitation. He also has the mentality that he can help the team win and that's something a coach can't teach a player. This mindset is what makes Leonard valuable to this team this season and beyond. His lack of pressure for the moment is something that will come out huge in the playoffs, where the world will be watching him.
His composure makes him similar to Tim Duncan in that he's quiet and only seems to care about what he can do to help the team win. If that's the case, is it really surprising that he's earned Pop's respect so soon?