Unlike some of his peers who prefer the allure of larger, more glamorous cities, Kawhi Leonard likes San Antonio precisely because, in his words, there’s not much going on.
All the better to avoid distractions and work on his game.
Leonard put his lack of leisure options to good use last season, developing rapidly over the course of his first NBA campaign to earn first-team All-Rookie honors. Even more impressively, he did so without the benefit of a full training camp and precious little practice time during the strike-shortened season.
Head coach Gregg Popovich was duly impressed. He showered Leonard with compliments over the summer, calling the second-year small forward a “special player” who could someday be the face of the Spurs franchise.
Popovich followed that up at media day on Monday by saying he wants Leonard, 21, to wear silver and black for the rest of what looks to be a long and distinguished career.
“We’d love him to be a Spur for life,” Popovich said.
Leonard, a 29.1-percent 3-point shooter as a sophomore at San Diego State, made 37.6 percent of attempts last season – almost three percentage points better than the league average of 34.9 despite the wider arc.
“When he came in he couldn’t shoot much,” Popovich said, “and with the tutelage of (assistant coach) Chip Engelland he’s really improved in that area and all of a sudden is shooting 3s, which none of us even dreamed he would do last year.”
Leonard, who shot only 30 percent from 16-23 feet last season according to Hoopdata.com, said he continues to work on his stroke, taking up to 300 jumpers per day over the summer. At the same time Popovich is challenging Leonard to expand his game even further.
“He’s going to handle the ball more this year,” Popovich said. “He’s going to be involved more in pick and roll this year.”
It’s a set that accounted for only 3.9 percent of Leonard’s rookie possessions – 20 as the initiator, three as the roll man. Yet he said he’s already gotten comfortable with his new responsibility after focusing on his ball-handling and aggressiveness over the summer.
“I just want to show them they didn’t make a mistake by me handling the ball,” Leonard said. “I’m more comfortable, more confident in playing. Last year I was playing more on instinct. I was learning plays in games. This (training camp) and summer league will help me out a lot.”
Like Popovich, Leonard’s teammates have taken notice. As such, hopes are high as San Antonio hopes to keep pace in the Western Conference despite standing relatively pat during the offseason.
“We expect more from him this year,” said veteran Tim Duncan, who started his NBA career when Leonard was only six years old. “We’ll see what load he’s ready to carry.” Spurs Nation