When the San Antonio Spurs traded away fan favorite George Hill for the rights to San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard two summers ago, most Spurs fans were disappointed that trading away such a commodity didn’t land the silver and black a much-coveted big man.
A 6-7 small forward with questionable offensive skills and a high-energy motor left the Spurs with someone more than a few inches short of the player they desired, but Leonard has shown that he can give the Spurs some of what they targeted in their dream big man.
Aside from the ability to defend on the perimeter and down low, and getting his oversized paws on 25 shots for blocks this season, Leonard is his helping his frontcourt mates in the rebounding category as well.
That was all on display in the Spurs’ last game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Leonard lead the Spurs with 24 points, a career-high 13 rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocked shots. It was the fifth time Leonard had racked up more than 10 rebounds this season.
“He’s been great. He’s been offensive rebounding as well,” Spurs forward and leading rebounder Tim Duncan said. “His defensive rebounding has been huge. He can do it. He has the arms and legs and length for it.”
Leonard is currently the Spurs’ third-leading rebounder with 5.6 rebounds per game and has four Spurs big men trailing behind him in that category.
It’s not just Duncan taking notice of Leonard’s efforts this season. Leonard’s “Rising Stars” teammate during All-Star weekend, Kenneth Faried, also spoke highly of the second-year forward.
“Kawhi has big hands. Long arms and big hands," Faried said. "He plays great “D”. He can shoot it, actually and a heck of a player."
After missing several games due to injury this season, Leonard seems to be back on track and has been a key to the Spurs offense with Tony Parker out. In his absence, Leonard has taken on a bigger role on both sides of the floor as the Spurs look for someone to attack defenses and penetrate into the lane.
With the Spurs looking to him for offense, Leonard has scored in double figures in his last 13 games. While he continues to contribute offensively and defensively, one thing is evident, while Leonard has shown drastic improvement and progression through his second season, he has yet to come even close to his ceiling yet.
But Leonard will likely look to reach right through that ceiling with the same aggression he uses to snag away a rebound. With his long arms, anything is possible.