Miami Heat v San Antonio Spurs - Game Three

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


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.

Before season starts, watch top 10 dunks of preseason

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Starting Tuesday night, the games matter. The dunks matter.

But before we move onto those dunks, let’s have some fun with the top 10 dunks of the meaningless preseason. They may not matter, but they certainly were fun.

Of course there are some expected highlights — can you have a dunk reel without Russell Westbrook? — but game-winning dunks always get the top slot.

Carmelo Anthony says rather than take knee during Anthem he wants action in communities

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks looks on against the Cleveland Cavaliers during their game at Madison Square Garden on March 26, 2016 in New York City.  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 Al Bello/Getty Images)

Colin Kaepernick certainly fired up a discussion — not always the conversation he intended, but a discussion of the treatment of African-Americans in our society was part of that conversation.

No NBA player has taken that same step through the preseason, taking a knee during the national anthem (only anthem singers have done that). Some teams are locking arms during the anthem in a show of solidarity, but they stand in two orderly rows.

Carmelo Anthony explained in an interview with Bleacher Report that what he and many others want to see is the next step in Kaepernick’s protest — action in the community.

“I’m past the gestures,” New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony told B/R Mag. “I’m past that. It’s all about creating things now and putting things in motion. So, that’s what I’m on. I’m trying to get guys on board with that and help them understand that—enough of the gesturing and talking and all of that stuff—we need to start putting things in place….

“He’s done it,” Anthony said of Kaepernick. “He was courageous enough to do that. He created that. He created the kneeling and that protest. And people fell in line with that. Some people supported it. Some people didn’t. But at the end of the day, and I’m not taking nothing away from him…I just don’t think the gesturing is creating anything. I think it’s bringing awareness, but I think doing stuff and creating awareness in the communities [is more effective].”

What are those things? Players, the players’ union, the NBA itself, and it’s teams are all working to figure that out. This is not something where one blanket program fits all — what is needed in communities in New York is different from the needs in Milwaukee, is different from the needs in Sacramento. This needs to be local, with players involved.

There have already been some steps. The Bulls held a basketball tournament between police and a mentoring agency, which was followed by a panel discussion. Dwyane Wade biked with police through Miami. The Grizzlies have revived the Police Athletic League in Memphis. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, there are teams from New Orleans to Los Angeles are working to bring youth and police together to talk.

It’s a start. A good start.

There is no one magic gesture, no one simple measure that can heal the deep divides in our nation right now. There are no easy answers, and as a nation we can be too dependent on easy answers. We need to listen. We need to talk to each other, not at each other. We need to practice empathy.

NBA players can help lead that effort, that conversation. It would be the next step after a protest — to act on those steps. Good on Anthony and the NBA for attempting to go down that road.


Rockets change from earlier reports, waive Pablo Prigioni, keep Tyler Ennis

HOUSTON, TX - MAY 17:  Pablo Prigioni #9 of the Houston Rockets celebrates in the third quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers during Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals at the Toyota Center for the 2015 NBA Playoffs on May 17, 2015 in Houston, Texas. 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 Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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The Rockets traded for Tyler Ennis., sending Michael Beasley away in the deal.

Which is why it was a bit of a surprise on Monday when early reports had the Rockets waiving Ennis, but either the report was off or the Rockets changed their minds.

With Patrick Beverley out injured, this leaves the Rockets thin at the traditional point guard spot. However, in practice James Harden, Eric Gordon and others will initiate Mike D’Antoni’s offense, so the bigger challenge will be defensively. Prigioni was not much help there at this point in his career.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a team snaps up Prigioni as insurance, or he certainly can make money overseas. Prigioni played last season as a backup point guard for the Clippers.

Want some dance lessons from Hassan Whiteside? We got that.

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 26: A portrait of Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat on September 26, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Miami’s Hassan Whiteside is a lot of things: An elite shot blocker, up-and-coming NBA star who worked hard for the right to be that, a Heat cornerstone.

Dance instructor?

I’m not sold, but he’s showing off his groove in this Twitter video.

When you get a $98.6 million contract, you can do whatever you want. So he can be a dance if he wants to.