Popovich says he’s got to get Kawhi Leonard more touches to groom him for future

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LOS ANGELES — “We ran more plays for him tonight than I ever have in his career.”

That’s what Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Kawhi Leonard on Monday night, after his young star made defensive plays — three steals — that helped spark a come-from-behind win over the Clippers. The fact is Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were cold while Kawhi Leonard had Jamal Crawford on him, not exactly a stellar defender, so Leonard got the touches and finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds.

The next night against the Warriors Leonard had two key fourth quarter threes on his way to 19 points in another big Spurs road win.

Leonard got off to a slow start this season after suffering an eye infection that kept him away from the team for about three weeks. Now he’s back and while the eye isn’t 100 percent it’s healthy, and with his conditioning returning and the rust shaking off Leonard is looking like his old self.

Which means he’s going to get more and more touches — he’s the foundation for this Spurs team once Duncan and Manu Ginobili step away (something that could well happen next summer).

“We’ve got to start giving him the ball, he’s the future,” Popovich said. “I don’t think Timmy and Manu are going to play any more than six or seven more years.”

That got a laugh. But Leonard said he appreciated that Popovich is calling his number more now.

“It’s better to walk it than to hear him just talk about it…” Leonard said after the win in Los Angeles. “Just going to need that to keep moving forward, to be a better player, rather than when that time comes it just hits me in the face and I don’t know what to do or manage it. But if we keep moving forward it would be great.”

Of course, to make him the future means to re-sign him this summer when Leonard is a restricted free agent. Both sides want to get that done, expect it to happen. And in a very Spurs way, with little fanfare.

Leonard is averaging 11.3 shot attempts a game, up 1.5 from the year before, but expect that number to grow (and his shooting percentages to return to normal now that his vision is clearing up with the infection gone).

The last couple games Leonard has looked a lot like that Finals MVP player from last June. Just one who is a little more at the heart of the Spurs offense (although Parker is the catalyst). It’s a trend we’re going to see all season, because Popovich is grooming Leonard to be the future of the Spurs.