Miami Heat v San Antonio Spurs - Game Three

Kawhi Leonard becoming the LeBron stopper the Spurs knew they’d need

47 Comments

In 2011, a 22-year-old Derrick Rose became the youngest Most Valuable Player in NBA history. Dwight Howard, then just 25, finished second in the voting. Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks to the championship.

The NBA can be a reactionary league, and some teams set out that offseason searching for the next Rose, Howard or Nowitzki or a player who could stop one of those three. A point guard, center and power forward.

The Spurs didn’t become the NBA’s top team in the last 15 years by being reactionary, though, and they eyed a different type of player, one who could help them in 2012, 2013 and beyond – not 2011, a season that had already ended. That meant they needed someone to guard LeBron James and Kevin Durant, small forwards.

So, the Spurs shopped George Hill, a player they had developed into a borderline starter/Sixth Man of the Year candidate. To a degree, San Antonio got lucky Kawhi Leonard – ranked No. 6 on ESPN’s big board – fell all the way to the No. 15 pick in the 2011 draft, where the Pacers picked and were willing to trade for Hill.

The Spurs’ calculation was dead on. LeBron and Durant finished 1-2 in MVP voting and led their team to a combined three Finals in the two years since San Antonio drafted Leonard. Meanwhile, Leonard has developed into one of the NBA’s best defenders of those two.

That ability was on full display during the Spurs’ 113-77 Game 3 win over the Heat last night. In addition to posting 14 points and 12 rebounds, Leonard became the youngest player since at least 1985 to get four steals in a Finals game and helped hold LeBron to 7-of-21 shooting and, for the first time since 2009, no free throws .

LeBron has never averaged fewer points per game in a series than the 16.7 he’s scoring in these Finals, and his series field-goal percentage (38.9) is his lowest in the last five years. Of course, Leonard doesn’t deserve all the credit, but he’s the primary piece of San Antonio’s defense of LeBron.

Leonard showed this type of defensive potential against Durant in the Western Conference Finals last year, but ultimately, Leonard was still a rookie and wasn’t ready for the matchup. That was a key reason the Thunder beat the Spurs to reach the Finals.

But Leonard, even though he’s four years younger than any other starter in this series, sure looks ready now. Especially impressively, Leonard has grabbed two, eight and three offensive rebounds in the Finals. He’s not just guarding LeBron, he has enough energy to make all the hustle plays on offense, too.

Leonard is at the perfect crossroads, young enough to play hard for major minutes and savvy enough to play well on the biggest stage – just as the Spurs envisioned two years ago.

Serge Ibaka says he wants to stay with Magic forever, and they want him long-term

Serge Ibaka jokes around while posing for a photo holding a plastic Flamingo during Orlando Magic's NBA basketball media day, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
AP Photo/John Raoux
Leave a comment

The Magic took a major risk trading for Serge Ibaka, who’s heading into unrestricted free agency next summer. Rather than have Victor Oladipo (who’ll be a restricted free agent) and the No. 11 pick (who’s on a four-year contract), Orlando could come away empty-handed within a year if Ibaka leaves.

So far, everyone is saying the right things.

Ibaka, via Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

“I’m looking to stay here to play forever — for [as] many, many years as possible,” Serge Ibaka said during the Magic’s media day.

“I’m not really worried about my contract year or my long-term,” Ibaka said.

“One of the things I learned playing on a good team is when the team wins, when you make the playoffs, everybody looks good. So that’s what will be my focus right now, because if we win and make the playoffs, everything will take care of itself.”

Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, via Robbins:

“We certainly traded for Serge thinking long-term, and that’s our expectation,” Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said.

I’d be surprised if the Magic and Ibaka didn’t discuss the parameters of his next contract, with the Thunder’s permission, before making the trade. But the Collective Bargaining Agreement prevents any binding unofficial arrangements, so nothing is set in stone.

Ibaka is already talking about making the playoffs, and that would go a long way toward convincing him to stay in Orlando. But what if the Magic miss the postseason, a distinct possibility? How keen will Ibaka be on returning then?

He’ll have other suitors – unless he has a down year. Then, how badly will Orlando want him back?

That Ibaka and the Magic are entering the season with the stated intention of a long-term arrangement means something. But it means only so much.

Quote of the Day: Karl-Anthony Towns wants to learn how to be great

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns celebrates after hitting the game-winning shot in an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers in Portland, Ore., Saturday, April 9, 2016. The Timberwolves won 106-105. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)
Leave a comment

“There are so many talented players in the league. But only a few of them are remembered as being great — because they were willing to say they don’t know. And I’m willing to say that I don’t know everything. I do not know how it is to be a great player, to be a Hall of Famer. I want to learn.”

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves (via Kyle Ratke on Twitter)

There were a lot of things to like about Towns’ rookie campaign — it was impressive enough to make him the clear Rookie of the Year — he averaged 18.3 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, shot 54.2 percent from the floor, and had a PER of 22.3.

But if you talk to people around the league, what really impressed them was his work ethic and drive. He puts in the time, he’s driven, and he listens. There’s a reason Kevin Garnett took to him.

KAT is going to be great. No question.

Jamaal Wilkes auctions off Basketball Hall of Fame ring, nets $25,000

SPRINGFIELD, MA - SEPTEMBER 7:  Jamaal Wilkes speaks during the Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Symphony Hall on September 7, 2012 in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Jamaal Wilkes spent a brilliant basketball career always being overshadowed by an all-time great. At UCLA he won two titles and 88 straight games as part of John Wooden’s legacy on squads remembered as Bill Walton’s teams; in the NBA he won championships on teams led by Rick Berry first, then Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Look at it this way: when the Lakers clinched the NBA title in Game 6 of the 1980 Finals, Wilkes had 37 points and 10 rebounds. But what do we remember from that game? Magic scoring 42 points with 15 rebounds and 7 assists as he played all five positions.

Wilkes finally was recognized for his greatness when he was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame back in 2012.

This week he put his Hall of Fame ring up for auction online via Nate Sanders and got $25,000 for it. From the official press release:

The 10k Jostens ring features a diamond set on a square red stone. “Basketball Hall of Fame” is engraved in the gold surrounding the stones. Wilkes’ name is engraved on one side above two basketball players in relief. The opposite side has the year “2012” engraved above the Hall of Fame’s official logo.

The ring comes with a letter of authenticity from Wilkes.

Wilkes had previously auctioned off his Hall of Fame trophy, too.

John Stockton working with Bucks point guards at training camp

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 30:  John Stockton #12 of the Utah Jazz dribbles in Game five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Sacramento Kings during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at Arco Arena on April 30, 2003 in Sacramento, California.  The Kings won 111-91.  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: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
3 Comments

The Bucks are coached by one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Jason Kidd. But Kidd invited another legend of the position to camp to work with his point guards. John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, was at Bucks practice on Thursday working with Michael Carter-Williams, Matthew Dellavedova and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not a bad person to learn from, especially since the Bucks have one of the weakest point-guard positions in the league.