What If Kawhi Leonard Doesn’t Become a San Antonio Spurs Superstar This Season?

Kawhi Leonard has largely been a quiet standout for the San Antonio Spurs, but the small forward has proven he holds the potential of becoming a top NBA player.

That statement is not exactly ground-shaking, especially given his elite showing during the 2013 finals. The Miami Heat may have won the series, but Leonard’s hype train began rumbling at a dangerous speed.

He was soon heralded as the next best thing, and it was supposed to be an immediate change for the aging Spurs—a changing of the guard, per se. The former first-round pick certainly improved throughout the most recent campaign, but ever-so-fractionally, to be honest.

Of course, Leonard proceeded to absolutely dominate the final three games of the 2014 finals, making him one of the league’s most interesting subjects.

Consequently, he will once again be expected to make a leap into superstardom, but is the vaunted Spurs’ system actually stunting the 23-year-old’s development into an elite NBA star?

Not one San Antonio player averaged more than 30 minutes per game last season, which is either fantastic or somewhat perplexing. Fantastic, because Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are definite beneficiaries of Gregg Popovich’s scheme. And perplexing, because Leonard appears so close to placing himself among the league’s best individual talents.

An obvious explanation is “that’s just the way it works in San Antonio,” so he will continue to occupy a complementary role. Right now, Leonard is essentially a leading 3-and-D player, with the emphasis leaning toward his stellar defense since he has knocked down a modest 37.6 percent from distance.

“Can he be a star?” ESPN’s Amin Elhassan (subscription required) asked.

In the traditional sense, probably not. His offensive repertoire is not refined or diverse enough to allow him to be the main engine that powers a team’s offense. Similarly, he appears to lack the disposition to instinctively assume that role, as evidenced by the muted performances he put up in Games 1 and 2 of the Finals.

However, Leonard’s most consistent aggressive displays occur during the postseason, where he has increased his points, rebounds and steals outputs each year.  The 6’7″ wingman occasionally exhibits a fearless nature, clearly seen when he spotted up and buried a jumper in LeBron James’ face multiple times last June.

Despite being guarded by one of the league’s premier defenders, Leonard simply did not flinch. That’s just one example of the strides San Antonio knows he is capable of making, but his typically passive style still persists as a lingering question.

Will he be ready to flip the switch when Duncan and Ginobili retire, something that very realistically happens following the 2014-15 season? Or, will another season of being the third or fourth option slowly turn him into a player who only thrives as an under-the-radar component?

Note: One of Leonard’s previously mentioned spot-ups over LeBron is the second clip in the accompanying video.

San Antonio’s team-oriented scheme is flat-out fun to watch, but its longevity is clearly an issue. The retirements of both Duncan and Ginobili feel much closer after the Spurs earned another ring, and Popovich’s replacement cannot perfectly replicate what the team is currently doing.

Leonard’s reserved attitude causes doubts that he’ll be able to instinctively assume the role of a leading playmaker, so the Spurs need to see exactly that this season. The elderly version of the Big Three remains, and it’s a perfect opportunity to hand a budding star more responsibilities.

The Spurs often win handily, so Leonard has rarely, if ever been required to take a over game. He manages some key plays down the stretch, but the fourth-year pro can learn hero-ball without the pressure of being expected to drain the clutch shot every time.

Additionally, he can be the primary focus in more offensive sets, most notably an extremely successful and slightly tweaked version of the pick-and-roll. Instead of just rubbing around a screen, Leonard starts at the top of the key, dishes to a teammate at the free-throw line before securing a return pass as he slashes toward the rim.

Utilizing him more in the half-court offense will pay prospective dividends since Leonard is not a shot creator, which makes the aforementioned play so beautiful. It’s an elementary combination that can be completed with an end-of-the-bench guy—heck, even you can throw the pass.

San Antonio need not abandon its championship-caliber system and rush him into superstardom, but it still must take steps to ensure Leonard progresses into what scattered performances have displayed. 

This kid is special, and elite potential is written all over him. But Leonard should receive more opportunities to grow while playing alongside three of the finest players the NBA has ever seen.

If the Spurs ignore his necessary progression, it will set back their future successes. And that’s exactly what a perennially premier franchise does not want to encounter.

 

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

Follow Bleacher Report NBA writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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Korver: Luol Deng doesn’t think Hawks, Ferry are racist

Luol Deng just wants to move on. Kyle Korver, a former teammate of the Miami Heat guard, said Deng told him that although he was “shocked” to hear Danny Ferry’s comments about him, he doesn’t believe Ferry or anyone on the Hawks organization is racist. “He said he was shocked when he heard what was said, but that sometimes things just slip out,” Korver said. “It was pretty amazing, really. He just wants everything to move on. He wants to get back to basketball.” Ferry made disparaging remarks about Deng during a phone call when assessing him during free agency, saying the Duke product “has a little African in him.” “He’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back,” Ferry said. Deng, who is from what today is South Sudan, expressed pride for his African heritage in response to Ferry initially and now is ready to move on from the ordeal. Ferry, meanwhile, has taken an indefinite leave of absence from the Hawks after his comments

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Adam Silver doesn’t think Danny Ferry should be fired

Everyone has an opinion when it comes to the Atlanta Hawks and Danny Ferry. That includes league commissioner, Adam Silver. While in Spain for the FIBA World Cup, Silver was asked his thoughts, by USA Today, about the whole situation and […]

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Nick Young on why he doesn’t have tattoos on right arm: ‘Strictly for buckets’ (pic)

Nick Young may be one of the most enigmatic stars in the NBA, but the Los Angeles Lakers shooter might also be one of the most entertaining. During the offseason, that makes him and his antics worthy of attention. On Thursday, Young, a noted tattoo enthusiast(above), posted a photo to Instagram showcasing how he was […] The post Nick Young on why he doesn’t have tattoos on right arm: ‘Strictly for buckets’ (pic) appeared first on Sportress of Blogitude.

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Stephen Curry Gets Carded for Beer at Restaurant, Waitress Doesn’t Know Him

If you don’t follow basketball, you might not know who Stephen Curry is. If that’s the case, there’s a good chance that you won’t believe that the Golden State Warriors star is over 21 just by looking at him.

As it turns out, Curry was carded this offseason while dining at a California Pizza Kitchen. All the 26-year-old wanted was a beer. Seeing as how the NBA All-Star didn’t have his ID with him at the time, it wasn’t as easy for him to get as it should have been.

Curry explained the funny situation to Dime Magazine, via CSNBayArea.com:

Curry: It happened at California Pizza Kitchen in the Bay Area like 15 minutes from my house. We went, I tried to get a drink after the season, that’s exactly what happened.

Me and my wife went to dinner, and we didn’t have our daughter with us, and she was with the babysitter. So I ordered a beer, and I didn’t have my ID with me, ‘cause I left it in the car and I thought she’d recognize me.

So the waitress asks, and I was like, ‘Uh, is your manager here,’ and I took my chances with him knowing who I was, and … he knew.

But she basically, yeah, she wouldn’t give me the benefit of the doubt, knowing that I didn’t look like I was over 21 and not knowing who I was.

Dime Magazine: Did she apologize at all after the manager came over?

Curry: Not really. I don’t think she knew basketball at all, so I don’t think it registered.

Dime Magazine: Her manager was probably like, ‘Good, so she’s not serving anyone under 21.’

Curry: [Laughs] Exactly, ‘We’re doing our job.’

There aren’t many places in the Bay Area where Curry could go without being recognized. In fact, many people around the country would recognize him. He just happened to pick a bad time to leave his wallet in the car.

On the plus side, the California Pizza Kitchen manager has to be proud that his employee was carding anyone who looked like they were under 21 years old. That said, Curry may want to make sure that he has his ID on him at all times in the future.

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Embiid doesn’t fall that far, goes to 76ers with 3rd pick

Embiid is coming off foot surgery and is taken on his potential

      
 

 

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O’Bannon trial: Survey says public doesn’t want college athletes to be paid

The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to stop the NCAA from limiting what players can get.

      
 

 

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Marc Gasol Says He Doesn’t See Himself Playing for Any Team Other Than Grizzlies

Amidst all the drama and speculation surrounding the future of Kevin Love, it’s refreshing to hear an NBA All-Star break from the caustic character of his peers and declare—oh so boringly—that he likes it where he is, thank you very much.

The player in question: Marc Gasol, stalwart center for the Memphis Grizzlies and one of the marquee names slated to hit free agency in 2015.

“I’ve always said Memphis is my home away from home,” Gasol recently told Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal (h/t to Pro Basketball Talk’s Kurt Helin). “Robert (Pera, Grizzlies owner) knows that. I know that. My teammates know that and that’s all that matters. I live day to day but I don’t see myself anywhere else.”

Every NBA player asked about his future plans manages to throw in some sort of vague caveat. Something about doing what’s best for the family or making the best business decision—that sort of thing.

Gasol, by contrast, really does seem genuine in his desire to stick around West Tennessee for a while. It really is his “home away from home,” after all: He moved to Memphis with his parents when he was 15, shortly after his brother, Pau Gasol, was drafted by the Grizzlies.

While Gasol has the option to sign an extension with Memphis, it makes more sense for him to play out the final year of his deal (worth $15.8 million) and survey the scene the following summer.

At that point, the Grizzlies stand to have only $23 million in committed salaries, meaning Gasol will likely have a significant say in which free agents the team chooses to target.

But as CBS Sports’ James Herbert notes, the Grizzlies have to get their own front-office house in order if they hope to build anything resembling a stable franchise:

Still, the Grizzlies do need to make sure they don’t mess this up. They’ve had a chaotic offseason, with their CEO and assistant general manager walking out the door and their head coach coming close to following them. Zach Randolph could potentially go somewhere else this summer, though it sounds like that would be unlikely. Ed Davis can be a restricted free agent this offseason, too.

When it’s time to negotiate with Gasol, he will need to believe that things are stable and he can win a championship in Memphis. Being comfortable and loyal sounds great now, but there is still some pressure on the Grizzlies.

With head coach Dave Joerger set to return for his second season, the Grizzlies boast a promising skipper with one 50-win season already under his belt.

That, coupled with arguably the best one-two frontcourt punch in the game in Gasol and Zach Randolph—who is expected to exercise his own $16 million player option for next season—is a stable enough basketball base on which to build something solid and sustainable.

Hopefully that continues to include arguably the most versatile center in the game.

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Thibs doesn’t like Joakim Noah shooting threes in practice

This season Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls has demonstrated his ability to be one of the most versatile players in the league. Not only is Noah a defensive anchor, he also is a great facilitator of the offense. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has given Noah the opportunities to run the offense, but according to a tweet sent out by Noah, Thibodeau isn’t ready for him to expand his shooting range just yet: I shot a 3 in practice today…. Thibs started hatin though — Joakim Noah (@JoakimNoah) March 26, 2014 *** Noah image courtesy of Getty Images

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Nick Young Celebrates 3-Point Shot That Doesn’t Go in the Basket

Nick Young celebrates everything.

Fresh haircuts, new kicks, wins, Kobe Bryant death stares, Iggy Azalea’s lipstick preferences—everything.

Against the New York Knicks on Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Lakers chucker celebrated a three-pointer that didn’t go in:

Leave it to Young to inject some swag into a botched three-point attempt.

On the bright side, the Lakers won, giving Swaggy P the opportunity to finish whatever celebration he started here. 

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