Originally written December 26, 2012 on Project Spurs:
When Kawhi Leonard came back from injury, many San Antonio Spurs fans were excited and also worried if he would need a long time to adjust back into the thick of things. To their delight, the fan base can breathe a sigh of relief and re-new their hopes for a championship run. Leonard got his shot back in the second game of his return against the Dallas Mavericks and, more importantly, seemed to improve on his defense and court awareness (7 steals in two games from his return). This sight not only boosts hopes of a 2013 NBA championship but also gives fans flashbacks from their championship run, mainly from Bruce Bowen. Bowen wasn't a player who'd get a bunch of steals or block shots like Kawhi can, but the mentality Bowen had on the court is the same one Leonard has right now: make the opponent take the toughest shot possible and don't think head coach Gregg Popovich doesn't see a lot of Bowen in Leonard. After the San Antonio Spurs decisively defended their home court against the rival Dallas Mavericks, Pop spoke about the similarities of the two men and what he expects Leonard to be on this squad.  "Well we're trying to make him a defender, a top notch defender that can become 'All League' kind of defender like Bruce (Bowen) was," said Popovich. "I think he's got the mentality for it, the intelligence for it. He just needs the experience." With Leonard only in his second year in the league, this is quite the compliment. In a league that's tilted itself to the side of offensive over having a balance, Leonard is impressing people over conditions that Bowen and the Spurs of old didn't face on a consistent basis. While Leonard plays a calm defense, his height, wingspan, and footwork makes it difficult for a player to get a shot over him and a tough time to back him down with his upper body strength. If he can pick up some of Bowen's old tendencies on defense like a constant hand in the face to block the vision of the court along with the other hand on the ball to disrupt a passing lane while as close as possible to be a nuisance (especially now that the Spurs have great bigs who can help in the paint with Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw), Kawhi Leonard could earn himself a couple of defensive player of the year awards to his shelf.
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