Originally written April 01, 2013 on Project Spurs:
If you watch this video of the San Antonio Spurs’ loss to the Miami Heat on Sunday, you’ll notice three highlight plays coming from Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard – a pump fake from the corner that he converts into a 3-pointer, a right handed layup he makes when slashing without the ball, and a throw down dunk over Udonis Haslem. In the Spurs loss, however, Leonard would finish the game with 17 points, 11 rebounds, two steals, and just one turnover while shooting 8-of-13 from the floor.  Last week, Project Spurs’ Trevor Zickgraf wrote a piece titled “Kawhi Leonard: Already better than Bruce Bowen.” In his analysis, he shows the progress Leonard has made in his sophomore season and how it’s already gone leaps-and-bounds further offensively than Bowen’s career had ever gone. Before leaving the Heat locker room on Sunday, I wanted to ask guard Ray Allen what he thought of Leonard, since Allen is a player who has played with wing men such as Rashard Lewis, Paul Pierce, and of course, the one and only LeBron James. “He’s progressing,” said Allen of Leonard, “I see he has a great upside. He can shoot the ball and he’s very athletic.” “I look for big things to come from him in the future.” After the game, I began looking through some of my past interviews this season with opposing players and coaches and have noticed that Leonard’s progression has been a common theme during the interviews I’ve attended because either I asked the questions, or somehow Leonard’s development had become a topic that game. Here are a few notable players and coaches discussing Leonard’s progression since the NBA All-Star break. February 27, 2013 – Spurs 101, Phoenix Suns 105 – Leonard: 15 points, 4 assists, 3 steals Suns forward Jared Dudley: “Kawhi Leonard’s kind of like Bruce Bowen, but I’m not going to say he’s better than Bruce Bowen but he has that defensive capabilities where he could be a lock-down defender potentially but yet (he’s) a lot more offensive efficient.” March 6, 2013 – Spurs 101, Chicago Bulls 83 – Leonard: 14 points, 7 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “He’s been very good from the start of his career. I think the confidence in his shot has really helped him. He played a lot of four in college; he’s going to the perimeter. You can tell he’s put a lot of work in. He’s continued to get better each year and that’s the Spurs way.” March 8, 2013 – Spurs 106, Portland Trailblazers 136 – Leonard: 16 points, 6 rebounds Blazers coach Terry Stotts: “From what I’ve seen, it looks like he’s becoming even more confident. I think Pop gave him a lot of trust last year and he accepted that. It looks to me like he’s being more assertive, more aggressive with doing more with the ball – taking the ball to the basket. He’s become a more consistent shooter and I think it goes back to the amount of trust Pop gave him last year.” March 22, 2013 – Spurs 104, Utah Jazz 97 – Leonard: 21 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks Jazz coach Ty Corbin: “He’s growing. He has the luxury of being on an established team with guys that are going to take a lot of pressure off of him because of who they are and where they are in their career. He’s found a way to be who he is with this group and find his identity with the guys that are on the floor by not getting in their way but being effective at what he do –that’s run the floor hard, he’s improved his perimeter shooting, and he’s starting to post a little bit against smaller guys.” And finally, why not close with a quote from Leonard’s own coach Gregg Popovich, who spoke of Leonard’s game after the Spurs fell to the Heat. Coach Popovich: “He just keeps blossoming and getting more and more confident in reading situations out on the court.”
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