The San Antonio Spurs list 18 players on the roster heading into training camp, and Air Alamo will break down each of the current players, their strengths, weaknesses, chances to make the roster and expectations for the 2015-16 NBA season.
For perhaps the first time, but certainly not the last one, Kawhi Leonard is atop San Antonio’s preseason power rankings.
Who Is He?
Leonard showcased his versatility while attending San Diego State, where he averaged 15.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.4 steals in 2010-11. The Indiana Pacers selected the small forward 15th overall in 2011, but he didn’t last long in the navy and yellow.
San Antonio swapped fan-favorite point guard George Hill for Leonard, and the move wasn’t well-received initially. Four years later, Spurs supporters have a different opinion of the 2014 NBA Finals MVP.
Although injuries have affected Leonard’s last three seasons, he’s steadily progressed from a role player into a featured star. In 2014-15, Leonard racked up a career-best 16.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.3 steals—the last of which was an NBA-high mark, as was his 96.4 defensive rating.
Leonard a five-year contract worth nearly $95 million during the offseason. The 24-year-old will remain with San Antonio at least through the prime of his NBA career.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The 6’7″, 225-pounder cemented his place in the league as a pesky defender. He solidified that prowess after earning the 2014-15 NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Leonard was a member of the NBA All-Defensive second team in 2013-14 and jumped up to the first team last season. His 7’3″ wingspan and 9.8-inch hands make Leonard a remarkably frustrating opponent, because he can tap the ball away from anyone at seemingly any moment—even NBA MVP Stephen Curry.
Defense is Leonard’s calling card, but his biggest development has come as an offensive asset. Spurs shooting coach Chip Engelland has molded a once-hideous stroke into a reliable shot, and Leonard is an elite mid-range shooter with decent three-point range.
The next step for Leonard is becoming a game-changing ball-handler, which he occasionally displayed last season. Now, Leonard must be prepared to handle that responsibility more regularly.
What to Expect in 2015-16
San Antonio’s championship aspirations received a boost when the franchise signed LaMarcus Aldridge, but Leonard is still the absolute key to the Spurs. When he struggled during the first round of the 2015 playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio suffered.
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Leonard’s minutes should increase slightly, since San Antonio doesn’t have a true backup small forward.
Plus, thanks to Aldridge’s presence, Leonard should find himself with a little less pressure as a mid-range shooter. He can head to the opposite side of the court and pull the defense, while Danny Green stretches his man to the three-point line and Tim Duncan occupies the post.
Then, on the other end of the floor, “The Claw” will once again be the star. With Leonard and Green, the Spurs boast arguably the premier perimeter-defending duo. The 2015-16 season should mark Leonard’s second year on the NBA All-Defensive first team.
Perhaps most importantly, though, San Antonio gets to enjoy Kawhi Leonard as the face of the franchise for the first time. But it won’t be the last.