Kawhi Leonard: Playing Basketball the Right Way

Kawhi Leonard is not known for his antics. That is, unless you count being practically mute as “antics”. Leonard instead chooses to do his work and his talking on the court. That hard work has led to two NBA Finals MVP Awards and two NBA Defensive Player of the Year Awards.

Leonard will be the first to tell you that the only awards he counts are his championship rings, of which he has two (2). Plenty of NBA stars have two championships, so why do we want our youth athletes to watch Kawhi over other superstar players like James Harden?

The answer is simple: Kawhi Leonard plays a modern game of basketball the way it was meant to be played.

Kawhi Leonard and Toronto Raptors Capture First NBA Championship

Before the 2018-19 season, Leonard had played his entire career with perennial Western Conference powerhouse contenders, the San Antonio Spurs. When the talent pool in the desert dried up, Leonard was left looking for greener pastures. 

He ended up landing in Toronto with a blockbuster trade including Danny Green and DeMar DeRozan. Leonard took an already solid playoff team and made them elite. With his leadership, the Toronto Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors in six (6) games to win the organization’s first NBA title.

Leonard took home Finals MVP and he solidified himself as one of the game’s undisputed stars. The entire time, he worked hard on defense, distributed the ball, and never shied away from the big stage. This unique mix of talent, hard work, and selflessness separates Leonard from the rest of the league.

How Fundamentals and Defense Define Kawhi’s Career

As tempting as it would be, we will not pretend that Kawhi is a rags-to-riches story. He was named Mr. Basketball in California after the 2009 season and ended up being selected 15 overall by the San Antonio Spurs. 

Despite his talents being apparent, nobody saw Leonard as a bona fide star. Players like Jan Vesely, Bismack Biyombo and Jimmer Fredette were all selected above him. 

To earn playing time, Leonard dedicated himself to hard-nosed, fundamental basketball. He worked hard on both sides of the ball, quickly becoming a favorite of coaches and fans alike. As we will expound upon in the following section, the offensive production came in time, creating a monster player who opponents feared.

From Role Players to NBA Finals MVP

Leonard made an immediate splash in the NBA, finishing his rookie season fourth in Rookie of the Year voting. Yet he was still not a household name because he was not putting up huge numbers. Leonard instead used his all-around talents to match up with star players and hold his own on the offensive end. 

Going into the 2014 NBA season, he never finished a full season with double digit field goal attempts per game. He finished the 2018-19 season with 18.8 FGA per game. During this period, his effective field goal percentage has never dipped below 50 percent.  

Kawhi Leonard went from a solid rebounder and defender to an offensive juggernaut - and he did it with hard work. He developed his natural abilities into an unstoppable force.

This is where we would like to point something out which is absolutely vital for our youth basketball players to understand:

The truly great players work harder than anyone. There is a dangerous thought out there that you can become successful with either talent or hard work. The truly great players know it takes both!

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What Young Basketball Players can Learn from Kawhi Leonard

There is a legitimate argument in favor of Kawhi Leonard being the best basketball player on the planet right now. Here is what youth basketball players can learn from Kawhi:

  • Offense, defense, and transition basketball all matter. Yes, throwing down dunks might sell more jerseys, but winning basketball requires all five guys to hold their own within those painted lines in all aspects of the game.

  • Work on your weaknesses. To be clear, Kawhi Leonard never had any glaring, oh my god would you look at that, weaknesses. Yet he recognized that his offensive vision and shooting skills needed improvement, and he worked hard to improve.

  • Accentuate your strengths. At the same time, there is no harm in continuing to dominate in your strength areas. Allen Iverson never needed to be a great rebounder because he was the best isolation player in the league. Kawhi might have grown on offense, but he never stopped working on defense.

Stay humble, work hard, success will come. In the modern era of social media and unprecedented media access, Kawhi Leonard is completely untainted by scandal. He understands his role and he keeps it professional. Not every personality needs to be so mum, but we can all learn a lesson about humility from Mr. Leonard.

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Youth Basketball Coaching from Hustle Sports

Pittsburgh startup Hustle Training is quickly rising to one of the most popular sports drill apps out there. Their website, along with their mobile app puts players and coaches at the top of their game by providing skilled workouts and drills crafted by coaches, trainers, and professional athletes, and informative articles to take your team to the next level.