Kawhi Leonard emerging as Spurs newest star

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 5, 2013 at 11:40 pm •  Published: May 5, 2013
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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Kawhi Leonard is soft-spoken, selfless, takes direction well and shuns the spotlight. All of which makes him a perfect fit for the low-key San Antonio Spurs.

Leonard enjoys the limelight as much as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich likes speaking to reporters — which is to say, not much — but his profile might be about to grow.

While the spotlight is clearly fixed on sweet-shooting Stephen Curry as San Antonio hosts Golden State Monday night to open the second round, Leonard's emergence has given the Spurs their own rising star.

"He's tremendous," Warriors point guard Jarrett Jack said. "I think in a year or two he's definitely going to be one of the top small forwards in this league, somebody who is going to be a potential All-Star candidate."

Not that Leonard is at all interested in extra attention.

"Right now I'm just here to win games," he said. "It doesn't matter what the nation thinks about my game. I have goals set for myself. I want to reach my own goals; I'm not trying to reach anyone's expectations for myself."

Leonard's development in his second season was critical to San Antonio finishing second in the West and capturing the franchise's 19th division title.

The Spurs traded George Hill to Indiana Pacers in 2011 so they could draft Leonard, and the San Diego State prospect has not disappointed.

With injuries limiting Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and, especially, Manu Ginobili this season, Leonard has arguably become 3A among the Spurs' Big 3.

"He's a heck of a basketball player," Golden State coach Mark Jackson said. "They got a steal in the draft — a guy that knows how to play, that was ready to play and does everything the right way on the floor. His ability to defend, compete, understands his role, has the ability to be a guy that can wait for those guys to make plays but he also has the ability to be facilitate and be a playmaker. The future is extremely bright for him. You can see, at some point, the passing of the torch."

Leonard averaged 11.9 points during the regular season while shooting 49 percent from the field.

The 6-foot-7 forward was third on the team in scoring, the first time anyone other than the Big 3 has cracked the top three since Ginobili's rookie season in 2003.

At least one of his baskets each game usually comes off a thunderous dunk after he launches from about the free-throw line.

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