Kawhi Leonard is a superstar. Few will argue against that. His rise to world-beater status wasn’t that long ago, but it was mostly done in the NBA Playoffs, so one would think he’d be a literal talking-point nearly every single day of the week. Yet, it hasn’t exactly worked out that way. At least not from those outside the basketblog community.
Off to a swell start to this season, Leonard’s 21 points, nine boards and 24.33 PER would normally have the NBA community in a frenzied state, with a palatable buzz surrounding the San Antonio Spurs star, as each game he participates in should be considered a must-watch situation. Again, however, it hasn’t been that way.
There are solid reasons for this. Stephen Curry is essentially a created video game character come to life. Normally, folks would ban a player which was created with 99-ratings across the board, but people love fun. Steph Curry, along with being arguably the best player in the NBA today, is about the most entertaining thing to cross our picture-boxes any given night — sans The Walking Dead, of course.
Curry, as well as the bevy of other superstars currently at the NBA’s disposal, could be a solid reason why more non-media members fail to speak of Kawhi Leonard in the terms in which he deserves. It’s the stars folks are more familiar with, maybe, which prevents Leonard from getting his (ever-changing in a positive direction) just due.
Getting a few semantics out of the way: Leonard is no longer only that defensive marvel, a fellow who’s solid on the offensive end, but doesn’t push the issue. He’s far more than that now. While always fairly effecient, this year’s Leonard has been more aggressive than a pack of rabid kitty-cats.
While the sample size is still incredibly small (four games), Leonard is now attempting 18 field goals per game, which is up from last season’s 12.8, and an eye-popping nine-ish more attempts per game than he had in the 2013-14 season (9.8).
This should make for less of “Well, he’s simply another cog in the many cogs of San Antonio’s wheel” and far more “Holy smokes, Batman! Kawhi Leonard is the current franchise player of an organization that still trots out the (incredibly slowly) decomposing corpse of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.”
That is exactly where another problem kicks in. We, NBA fans, have grown accustomed to the Spurs having more success than the winner of The Bachelor. Their regular dominance, which spreads well over a decade now, is expected — even when it’s predicted they should fall short. When they overcome their supposed flaws, age and shortcomings, they’ve been so good for so long we view it with a ho-hum type demeanor instead of the shock-and-awed reaction we probably should:
Granted, Leonard’s game has very little flash to it. There are few moments of folks screaming “oooo” or “awe” or inserting “100” emojis after he denies a star the basketball or scores after some nice footwork near the rim. It shouldn’t matter, though. Not really. While his game may not be as appealing to one’s eyes in the same way Steph Curry’s game is after hitting a 40-foot bomb, we don’t need to be blown away by the physics of it all to appreciate him, or even enjoy watching him play from a visual viewpoint.
Nevertheless, to put keep things as simple as possible: Kawhi Leonard has been a monster defensively for seasons, while being more than competent on the glass, and incorporating a rather efficient style of offense in the process. Now he does all those same things, but better — and he’s far more aggressive on offense, as if he realizes it’s his turn to be in the upper-echelon of NBA superstars.
Like John “ugh” Cena, Leonard’s time is now.
Outside of everyone’s favorite Big Three — LeBron, Steph, Eyebrow — there are a few other guys right below in that “Other Superstar List”, which is totally fictional and subject to debate and debauchery. However, unlike many others, Leonard’s game is more quickly approaching the joining of that group of three guys everyone considers the holy grail of superstardom than he is at being merely — relatively speaking — a superstar.
Even putting aside the small sample size of Leonard’s current new found offensive aggression to a place of ignorance, if we were so naive to do so, this seemed like an inevitable next step for him. Not all players are up to that task, as many “up-and-comers” never become fully-functioning members of the NBA elite, but not only was Leonard probably already there after last season…he’s surpassing expectations now.
At this point let’s simply anoint Kawhi Leonard an eater-of-worlds and be done with it. Start writing the book, filming the Lifetime movie of the week and sculpting his bust for the Naismith Hall of Fame — because none of it is hyperbole anymore.