The San Antonio Spurs have, for a long, long time, been the NBA’s model for consistent excellence. Over the last twenty years they’ve been Playoff contenders, boasting winning regular season records along every step of the way. And course there are the five championship banners hanging up above.
Surely, you can say, it’s all thanks to Tim Duncan, a game-changing generational player? But, whether people realize it or not, that torch has already been passed to Kawhi Leonard.
The 25-year-old small forward leads a changing of the guard for the San Antonio Spurs. He’s already one of the best forwards in the league – just watch Monday night’s match up against the Indiana Pacers. For the last five years, Paul George has arguably been the East’s best SF not named LeBron James. In the Spurs’ win, Kawhi outgunned and outdueled George, scoring 32 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 4 assists.
The New Tim Duncan
Calling Kawhi Leonard the new Tim Duncan doesn’t refer to their playing style or positions. Not exactly. Duncan has always been at the 4 or 5, while Leonard is a swingman at the 2-3-4. Also, Kawhi still has some work to do before he can be revered as a multi-time Champion.
But Kawhi carries himself with the same demeanor as Duncan did. Their actions are louder than their words: at a young age, Kawhi is already an NBA Finals MVP, a 2-time Defensive Player of the Year, and a 2-time All Star. They don’t chase the spotlight, and they certainly aren’t the darlings of the media. Those kinds of titles belong squarely with the LeBrons, Carmelos, and Hardens on the league. But their presence strongly reflects in stats, in the W/L column of the San Antonio Spurs.
Most importantly, Kawhi is likely to be the centerpiece of a championship-contending team for a long time to come. He’s two years younger than Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, and Isaiah Thomas.
And here’s one more thing to note: averaging 25.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists… and he probably hasn’t grown into his prime yet. Most players peak between 27-30. Kawhi’s going to get better.
Leonard was drafted with 15th pick of the 1st round in the 2011 draft… by the Indiana Pacers. Back in 2011, trading him away to the San Antonio Spurs for George Hill seemed like a great idea. And, in all fairness, the Pacers did go on to the Eastern Conference Finals twice, where they fell to the Miami Heat.
But as Leonard walked through that door Monday night and stepped up to face Paul George, fans could probably only wish for what might have been. And it could still be worse: Leonard may still go on to lead the Spurs to another Championship or two before his career’s end.
Talk about the one that got away.