It is the start of another NBA season. And once again, the San Antonio Spurs are one of the top teams in the league. It has been that way for almost two decades. Their commitment to team play and unselfishness has taken them a long way. While the team is still living off of those values, the Spurs have a different feel to them this season. While it is a different feel, it isn’t exactly a negative one.
For the past 19 years, the face of the Spurs franchise has been Tim Duncan. He was the focal point of the team and led the organization to five championships. This past off-season, Duncan ultimately decided that it was time for him to walk away from the game of basketball. He had an illustrious career and is viewed by many as the greatest power forward ever. While his retirement is looming over the team, the Spurs have been prepared for this. They started preparing in 2011, when they acquired Kawhi Leonard from the Indiana Pacers on draft night. The Spurs saw the potential in Leonard as a franchise player. For the past few seasons, he was arguably the best player on the team. We could see the veterans let Leonard take over games and be the primary option on the offensive end. With Duncan now gone, it is officially the Leonard era in San Antonio. And if the start of this season is any indication, Leonard is ready to take on the role.
Kawhi Leonard Off to a Hot Start
The Spurs started their season against the almost-unfair Golden State Warriors. Many saw this as a preview of the Western Conference Finals. The majority of the conversation was about the new-look Warriors, and that helped the Spurs. They have always been a low-key team that still finishes near the top of the standings at the end of the season. That’s what makes the Spurs who they are as a team and organization. They never want to be the talk of the league. But after Leonard’s opening night performance against the Warriors, he and the Spurs were going to be talked about a bit.
Opening Night Performance
Leonard came out firing on all cylinders on opening night. He finished the night with a career-high 35 points, along with five rebounds. He also shot a perfect 15-15 from the free throw line against the defending Western Conference champions. It was the most aggressive we have ever seen Leonard on the offensive end of the court. His movement off the ball was excellent and he was looking to attack the paint all night. With Leonard attacking the paint as much as he did, he was able to get the free throw line consistently as well, evidenced in his aforementioned 15-15 shooting from the charity stripe. That one game really opened people’s eyes to Leonard’s scoring ability.
Since opening night, Leonard has shown us that his 35-point performance was no fluke. In the games following that one, he has averaged 26.7 points per game while shooting the ball at a very efficient rate, hitting at least 50 percent from the field in the last four games. On the season, Leonard is currently averaging 28.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game with a Player Efficiency Rating of 37.44. Expect his rebounding numbers go up as the season goes on.
While Leonard is off to a fantastic start on the offensive end, don’t forget that he is still one of the best defenders in the league. He has won the Defensive Player of the Year award in each of the past two years, and it is very possible that he wins it for the third time in a row. There is a high chance that Leonard finishes the season with both the Defensive Player of the Year and the MVP awards. He is showing that he was more than ready to take over once Duncan decided to retire. And if Leonard keeps up this play, the rest of the league should be scared.
April 15, 2015: San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the game between San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, LA. (Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)