San Antonio Spurs: A look at Kawhi Leonard’s superstardom

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 14: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs stands during player introductions prior to Game One of the NBA Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriorsc at ORACLE Arena on May 14, 2017 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - MAY 14: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs stands during player introductions prior to Game One of the NBA Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriorsc at ORACLE Arena on May 14, 2017 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Following a stellar 2016-2017 Season, San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard has received mixed feedback regarding his superstar potential.

Kawhi Leonard has been one of the game’s most intriguing players of the last four years. Since winning the 2014 Finals MVP Award with the San Antonio Spurs, Leonard’s talent has grown extraordinarily.

With the end of the Tim Duncan era, Leonard has emerged as the unquestioned leader for the Spurs locker room. His tenacity and willfulness brought the Spurs to 61 wins in the 2016-2017 season.

As his stats grew, so did his popularity. As of April 2017, Kawhi had the sixth most-popular jersey of the year on NBAStore.com.

Following a misquote of Penny Hardaway discussing Leonard’s superstardom, the validity of Kawhi’s rise has been in question by many media members.

As he tours China for the first time in his career, the global awareness of Kawhi Leonard is on the rise. Despite flying under the radar, Leonard’s superstardom is absolute. His leadership, talent and tenacity are tremendous and have earned him global recognition as a superstar.

Kawhi Leonard brings the ? up to The Great Wall of China! #GlobalGame pic.twitter.com/UYdA8qfcVh

— NBA (@NBA) August 19, 2017

The silent superstar

Superstardom in the NBA is not limited to one player at a time. Quite frankly, it never has been. Magic Johnson and his counterpart Larry Bird dominated the 80’s. Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon highlighted the 90’s. Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant highlighted the 2000’s.

Things aren’t as linear as they seem and the modern NBA has allowed for a plethora of superstars to highlight the league. With the likes of LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Durant as the helm, superstardom has become fluid.

With demonstrative superstars such as LeBron James and Russell Westbrook dominating headlines, Kawhi is considered “old-school” by fans and analysts. As much as he continues to strive, he remains humble and grounded without breaking headlines.

Similarly to his predecessor Tim Duncan, Leonard has asserted himself as a silent superstar of sorts. While his on-court performances garner praise, his outside presence remains under the radar. He keeps to himself, lives life simply and always defers credit to his teammates.

The outward stylings of Magic, Jordan and Kobe have always taken center stage as their superstar counterparts have reached greatness. Leonard, like many superstars before him, has taken a media backseat.

While his understated demeanor often shifts the spotlight away from him, Kawhi’s greatness is also appreciated by basketball’s elite. Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal all praise Leonard at every opportunity for his two-way effort.

Like Duncan and Olajuwon before him, Leonard has become the silent superstar of the era. The league’s spotlight shines away from him but his success will continue.

The two-way phenom

Flashy plays dominate highlight reels, but two-way effort dominates the game. Leonard’s ability to score and defend is what makes him one of the game’s most intriguing superstars.

Kawhi finished top-three in both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year voting this past season. His willfulness allows him to compete on both sides of the floor. He averaged 25.5 points per game along with 1.8 steals in just 33 minutes.

Silence the offense ?. Best Defender goes to @KawhiLeonard. #PlayersVoice pic.twitter.com/RC0wQHxAhX

— NBPA (@TheNBPA) August 18, 2017

Physically, Leonard is one of the most daunting players at his position. His seven-foot wingspan and massive hands are his strongest physical assets. His ability to strip the ball from defenders is unmatched and his Defensive IQ is on-par with the greatest defenders in the game’s history.

On the other side of the floor, Kawhi is equally talented. Growing up in Los Angeles, Leonard had the opportunity to watch Kobe Bryant perform in his prime. His midrange game and fadeaway jumper are dangerously reminiscent of the Black Mamba.

Leonard’s athleticism allows him to finish near the rim with ease and his handles allow him to create space for his shot or a drive. His game is as complete as Coach Gregg Popovich expects from his superstar.

Many important people in the basketball world consider him the greatest two-way player of his era. As previously mentioned, Michael Jordan has said so himself. For a player to be truly great, they must compete on both sides of the floor, and no one does it better than Kawhi.

He lets his game speak for itself and has grown acclaim because of it. This is evident through his ‘Block of the Year’ victory in the 2017 NBA Awards. His hard work and effort have brought him respect from the NBA.

The Future

The prime of an NBA player is generally considered to be their late-twenties to the early-thirties. This is when a player reaches peak awareness on the court while retaining their physicality. Leonard, who turned 26 late-June, has only just entered his prime.

Each season that Kawhi has been in the league, he has increased his total points and assists. The sky’s the limit for this rising superstar. Leonard’s work ethic is higher than most and will poise him for yet another great season.

The ✋ goes global.

Kawhi Leonard pays a visit to Jordan fans in China. pic.twitter.com/b2VbrJ8w9A

— Jordan (@Jumpman23) August 18, 2017

Now is a perfect opportunity for Kawhi to prove his worth to those unaware of his superstardom. As the Spurs prepare for another season, lots of the pressure lays upon Leonard’s shoulder.

Expectations will be high following the Spurs’ collapse in the Western Conference Finals. The league will be on watch for Leonard’s return and how it will impact Golden State’s competition. Even early in his career, winning has been the expectation for Leonard. Now, with San Antonio’s winning culture in the balance, Leonard will have to prove himself once and for all.

For now, he’ll enjoy his trip to China and represent the NBA’s expanding global appeal. With celebrations for his arrival, Kawhi’s shown a great deal of excitement on his trip thus far. 

Next: Spurs: Historic influences for Nike’s new uniforms

His reception in China is a true testament to his status as an NBA Superstar.

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