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Old 08-20-13, 11:00 AM
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Kawhi Leonardís career about to hit stride

Kawhi Leonardís sleepy visage masks a burning ambition. When Spurs coach Gregg Popovich declared, after a strike-shortened rookie season, that Leonard would one day be the face of the franchise, he barely blinked. Indeed, Leonard willingly ramped up expectations that are already sky-high by voicing his desire to be an NBA superstar.

What can the Spurs expect from their third-year small forward in 2013-14? blogger Dan McCarney looks at other elite threes at the same point in their career:

Kawhi Leonard

2nd year: 11.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.7 spg, 37.4 3-pt%, 16.4 PER
3rd year: ???

Scottie Pippen

2nd year: 14.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.9 spg, 14.9 PER
3rd year: 16.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.4 apg, 2.6 spg, 16.3 PER
Comment: Pippen wouldnít make the leap to true stardom until the latter half of the 1990-91 season ó his fourth ó as his dominant all-around play helped the Bulls storm to their first championship. But he earned his first All-Star nod in Year 3 as Phil Jacksonís triangle proved a perfect fit for his versatile skill set.

Paul George

2nd year: 12.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.6 spg, 16.5 PER
3rd year: 17.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 4.1 apg, 1.8 spg, 16.8 PER
Comment: Only one year older than Leonard at 23, the two likely will be compared throughout their careers. The Spurs would certainly be satisfied with a similar arc after George developed into a legitimate go-to player. The increased role came at a price, however, as his shooting accuracy dropped to 41.9 percent.

Luol Deng

2nd year: 14.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.9 apg, 46.3 FG%, 15.8 PER
3rd year: 18.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.5 apg, 51.7 FG%, 18.7 PER
Comment: Long and rangy, Deng frequently is compared to Leonard despite the differences in their games, most notably the Chicago standoutís reliance on the mid-range jumper. One quality Leonard will want to model is the way Deng managed to improve his efficiency even as his role increased, something George wasnít able to do.

Kevin Durant

2nd year: 25.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 7.1 FTAs, 57.7 TS%, 20.8 PER
3rd year: 30.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 10.2 FTAs, 60.7 TS%, 26.2 PER
Comment: This is when Durant made the leap from mere All-Star to perennial MVP candidate. Already an elite scorer and shooter, he took another leap by learning how to get to the foul line. Thereís a lesson there for Leonard, who will never remotely resemble Durant as a scorer but can still aspire to the same desire for improvement.

Chris Mullin

2nd year: 15.1 ppg, 3.2 apg, 1.2 spg, 30.2 3-pt%, 15.8 PER
3rd year: 20.2 ppg, 4.8 apg, 1.9 spg, 35.1 3-pt%, 19.8 PER
Comment: Another player who bears zero stylistic resemblance to Leonard. But in terms of work ethic, the two gym rats might as well be brothers. Mullin was on the verge of drinking himself out of the league before turning his career around. His renewed professionalism would eventually result in his selection to the Dream Team in 1992.

Link to story: Spurs Nation Ľ Kawhi Leonard?s career about to hit stride
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