Jun 25, 2011; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs draft pick Kawhi Leonard (left) and Cory Joseph (right) hold up Spurs jerseys at a press conference at the Spurs practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-US PRESSWIRE

Leonard, Joseph shine in Summer League opener


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Yesterday was simply unfair. Kawhi Leonard gave the Hawks a brutal challenge of trying to stop him. Cory Joseph also made life difficult for Atlanta.

San Antonio started off their 2012 Summer League slate with a 82-76 win over Danny Ferry’s Atlanta Hawks. The Spurs were led by Leonard with 23 points and Eric Dawson pulled down 13 rebounds.

The Spurs didn’t look sharp for 40 minutes but, in the final minutes, Cory Joseph hit clutch free throws to put the game out of reach, and Dwight Buycks was in the right place to intercept the inbound pass preventing Atlanta from narrowing the gap.

It felt like a game the Spurs should’ve steamrolled through. Kawhi Leonard never lost faith in his shot, he never panicked, he went out there and tried to put the ball in the hoop. There is just something so fascinating about Kawhi.

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Leonard had one steal on the night where he simply stripped the ball and jogged down court and dunked the ball. It wasn’t some emphatic dunk, it was like the complete opposite of one of Blake Griffin’s biggest slams. Leonard just continues to show his love for the game, not trying to standout, and for a guy his age, he has amazing basketball I.Q.

Another guy showing his smarts was Cory Joseph. The Canadien-born Longhorn did his best Tony Parker impression, finishing with 18 points on 7-11 shooting, as well as 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Joseph spent a lot of time with the Toros so, naturally, he was familiar with the type of competition in Vegas.

At times, Joseph has to show more control with the basketball. He’ll attack the lane, and much like Tony Parker, will fall to the floor. However, a few times, Joseph recovered nicely by finding an open player in silver and black.

The ball movement could’ve been better. Joseph accounted for three of San Antonio’s 13 turnovers though, to Atlanta’s credit, they seemed a bit more defensive-minded than San Antonio. Also, they seemed to move the ball better.

The Hawks did a great job of finding the open shooters and working it to the post. Keith Benson was a tough task in the paint, and Brad Wanamaker and John Jenkins were solid complements to each other at guard.

San Antonio will now look to their next game with the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night. The Spurs will be hoping to get the same production they got out of Eric Dawson. His frontcourt running mate, Luke Zeller, severely underperformed Sunday. He didn’t do much to impress anyone.

San Antonio got some good minutes out of Dwight Buycks, JaMychal Green and Tyler Wilkerson off the bench. However, San Antonio’s lone 2012 NBA Draft pick, Marcus Denmon, seemed a little stiff in his first NBA outing. Buford said this guy could shoot but Denmon didn’t try to take as many shots as I would’ve liked. However he probably doesn’t want to step on any toes.

Alexis Ajinca and Derrick Byars did not see the floor any Sunday. We did see some of Ryan Richards. The 6’11″ English forward’s first shot was a nice jump hook. It was too strong, and Richards seemed to be out of his comfort zone. The pressure to make the Spurs’ roster has to be tough, but guys need to loosen up and play to their skill set.

It is only summer league. Nothing is truly on the line, unless we’re counting NBA contracts. However, teams aren’t looking for young guys who get flustered and stiffen up in the middle of the game.

San Antonio assist coach Jacque Vaughn will have to drive it home to not worry about the scouts, because when the Spurs started building momentum and feeling comfortable, they went on a tear. They have to go out and take care of business, so they can take that next step in to the big leagues.

Tags: 2012 Summer League Atlanta Hawks Cory Joseph Kawhi Leonard San Antonio Spurs