KSAT Ball Hog Blog: How 2011 deal for Kawhi Leonard got Spurs back to NBA Finals

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SAN ANTONIO - The Memphis Grizzlies did the Spurs an unintentional favor two years ago in the playoffs. They exposed them as a weak perimeter team.

Richard Jefferson's uninspired play along with Manu's injury history forced the Spurs to explore other options on the wing.

The result of those talks was a trade for a 19-year-old forward from San Diego State named Kawhi Leonard. Thanks Grizzlies.

As much as George Hill was loved by the Spurs coaching staff, players and fans, it was apparent the roster needed an upgrade in youth, versatility and athleticism.

I loved the deal for Kawhi for a few reasons. I followed him closely in college and was impressed by his stats, work ethic and demeanor. Yes, I actually watch Mountain West Conference hoops, it's pretty good.

Leonard averaged a double-double per game in college, a rarity for a small forward, and led the Aztecs to the Sweet 16 during his sophomore season.

More impressive was his commitment to SDSU and his team after his father was murdered in 2008.

But Kawhi came at a price. Again, the Spurs and Coach Popovich loved George Hill and did everything they could to keep him in San Antonio. The financial numbers did not work out and they had to deal him.

The trade with the Pacers came as a surprise because many casual fans had not heard of Leonard or even knew how to pronounce his name. Two years later, the deal has worked out great for both teams.

Leonard was drafted to be a defensive stopper against the likes of Kobe and Durant, but his ability on offense has taken him to the next level.

Leonard is averaging 13 PPG, 8 RPG, 1.6 SPG and 37 MPG during these playoffs. He's shot an unreal 56 percent from the floor and 41 percent from 3-point range. All those numbers are up from the regular season.

He was called upon to shut down Golden State's splash brothers combo and hounded Mike Conley at times in the West finals.

There are still some holes in his overall game. I would like to see him create his own shot more and he is caught wandering on defense at times. All that will improve in time, but right now he is a perfect fit for this Spurs team. Even his stoic approach is Duncan-ish.

As his ceiling gets higher, so will expectations. Coach Popovich trusts him in key situations and next test willl be his toughest this postseason whether it's LeBron or Paul George.

He's handled every other challenge well in his young career, and at only 21-years-old, the sky is the limit for Kawhi.

So if the Spurs do win their fifth title, I think a nice thankyou card would be in the store for the Grizzlies.

Kawhi Leonard 2013 season slide


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