Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge Poised to be Elite

By Brad Washington

Apr 29, 2015; Memphis, TN, USA; Portland Trailblazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) backs in against Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph (50) in the first quarter during game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs. at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs play a brand of basketball that’s easily imitated but not often duplicated, principally because it requires a strong hand in fundamentals and a team that’s on the same page. When soon-to-be fifth-year player Kawhi Leonard won the NBA Finals MVP award in 2014, many chalked it up as Leonard being a beneficiary to the other weapons on the floor and Popovich’s system. With those skeptics still nearby, Pop let Leonard be a focal point for the Spurs, and he led the team in scoring while posting career highs in the points, rebounds, steals and assists.

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Leonard accomplished this despite the older legs of Manu Ginobli, Tim Duncan and the declining body of Tony Parker. This year, everyone from the Big Three returns. Tiago Splitter was traded to the Atlanta Hawks, opening room for their blockbuster signing in LaMarcus Aldridge, who adds another weapon to the already explosive fundamental attack the Spurs showcase. Although Aldridge is in the prime of his career, this is still very much Leonard’s team.

Leonard can be a 20-point per game scorer who can shoot the ball at an elite clip, which is tremendously hard to find. A player who can shoot and defend at an elite level is even rarer. Leonard has the ability to do that this year, where he could become the best two-way player in the league.

If Pop takes advantage of forming the team with Aldridge and Leonard as the nucleus while still keeping his team-oriented philosophy intact, the Spurs will be the team to beat again. If it took a younger and healthier Clippers team to defeat the older but wiser Spurs team in seven games, visualize what it would take if the West has to deal with a tandem of two 20-point scorers on top of defending great team basketball.

If Pop exploits this unique situation correctly, we can start to see Leonard and Aldridge solidify their places among the league’s elite in the fall.

Next: Ray McCallum Says Playing For Spurs Feels Like An Honor