San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard is the 2014-15 KIA NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Leonard’s victory is not just about him beating other defensive stalwarts such as Draymond Green, DeAndre Jordan and even “The Brow,” Anthony Davis, it’s also about the ascent of an unheralded player who is now an integral part of a championship team.
It’s the ascent of a 23-year-old that has earned him a place in NBA history along with the likes of David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan.
While Leonard being recognized as the league’s best defensive stopper this year will certainly make headlines, not too many people are aware he’s taken charge on the offensive end for the Spurs, who are hoping to win consecutive titles and six overall.
Leonard was San Antonio’s top scorer during the 2014-15 NBA season with a 16.5 points-per-game average. He’s upped that scoring output to an impressive 20.5 during the postseason through April 24.
With the way things are going, Leonard is shaping up to be a two-way player who will be the new face of the Spurs franchise after the Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are long gone.
Kawhi Leonard winning KIA NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors is hard evidence of that.
Kawhi Leonard Is the 2014-15 KIA NBA Defensive Player of the Year
The San Antonio Spurs issued a press release on Kawhi Leonard winning the 2014-15 KIA NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award on their official website on April 23:
The San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, who became only the sixth forward to lead the NBA in steals per game since the league started tracking the statistic 42 years ago, is the recipient of the 2014-15 KIA NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, the NBA announced today.
He becomes the first Spurs player to win the award since David Robinson in 1991-92.
Leonard garnered 37 first-place votes and 333 total points from a panel of 129 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. He edged the Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green, who tallied 45 first-place votes and 317 points.
The Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan finished third with 261 points (32 first-place votes). Players were awarded five points for each first-place vote, three points for each second-place vote and one point for each third-place vote received.
The 6-7 Leonard averaged career highs of 2.31 steals and 5.9 defensive rebounds to help anchor a Spurs defense that held opponents under 100 points per game (97.0). for the 20th consecutive season.
According to NBA.com/Stats, San Antonio ranked third in the NBA in defensive rating, allowing 99.6 points per 100 possessions. The Spurs gave up only 97.1 points per 100 possessions when Leonard was on the court, a defensive rating that would have led the league over the entire season.
When Leonard was off the court, though, San Antonio permitted 102.2 points per 100 possessions, a league-average defensive rating.
MySanAntonio.com’s Dan McCarney adds the 23-year-old Leonard is the youngest player to be hailed NBA Defensive Player of the Year since another former Spur, Alvin Robertson, did it after the 1985-86 NBA season.
That’s just the beginning.
McCarney adds Leonard is just the third NBA player in league history to win both the NBA Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the year awards after Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Leonard earned NBA Finals MVP honors in 2014 after he averaged 17.8 points on 61 percent shooting to help the Spurs beat the Miami Heat in five games last year, per The Associated Press (via ESPN).
More importantly, he helped shackle four-time MVP LeBron James during the 2014 NBA Finals. Even though LBJ still averaged 28.2 points on 57 percent shooting, Leonard contained him in crunch time.
Leonard was so phenomenal, Heat guard Dwyane Wade made a bold proclamation. “It’s just like he played free,” he told The Associated Press (via ESPN). “He’s the future of this team.”
When he won the 2014-15 KIA NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award on Thursday, Leonard paid homage to his coaches and teammates, per MySanAntonio.com:
It just feels amazing, winning this award. The coaches gave me a game plan every night and I just go out there and try to execute it to the best of my ability.
Without a group of guys who want to play defense, it’s very hard to be a good individual defender.
It’s just a great award to win. I’m also happy to be part of the Spurs organization. They gave me a championship mindset and they just allowed me to play defense first.
I was able to come out and show my ability on the floor each and every night. So I just want to thank (Spurs general manager) RC (Buford) and them for (trading for) me, and Coach Pop (Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich) for coaching me.
The Indiana Pacers drafted Leonard in the first round back in 2011, but traded him for point guard George Hill, per McCarney.
The Parting Shot
First, he won the 2014 NBA Finals MVP Award. Now, he’s 2014-15 KIA NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
It just goes to show everyone how far Kawhi Leonard has come.
The Spurs are very fortunate to have a player of Leonard’s caliber in their fold. He can score from just about anywhere on the court. With his defensive prowess, especially in terms of steals, he creates many transition opportunities which San Antonio regularly capitalizes on.
Tim Duncan, who is earning $10.4 million in 2014-15, will most likely play beyond this season, per Popovich. Manu Ginobili told an Argentine Newspaper (via SI.com) on April 7 he’s still unsure about his future with the Spurs (he’s on the last year of a two-year deal that pays him $7 million this year), but he said he won’t play after 2016.
As for Tony Parker, he’s still signed through the 2017-18 NBA season, per HoopsHype.com.
These developments mean the Big 3 will still be around for the next year or two, tops. During that span, they’ll be more than happy to let the younger guys, especially Leonard, carry the load for the Spurs.
Once Duncan, Ginobili and Parker are gone, Leonard should be in contention for NBA MVP honors. With how he’s made progress thus far, it could be even sooner than that.
Leonard is part of an exciting breed of today’s best two-way players which include the likes of Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Marc Gasol, Chris Paul, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. These guys are making the league more and more fun to watch.
With Leonard being named the league’s top defensive player, more and more younger ballers ought to strive to be more versatile on both ends of the floor.
To close things out, the Spurs franchise has had several big-name players during their storied history: George Gervin, David Robinson, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. Kawhi Leonard is well on his way to joining their ranks much sooner than later.