Kawhi Leonard is back. This season in Toronto he is averaging 24.4 points and 8.4 rebounds a game, shooting efficiently with a 57.5 true shooting percentage (although his three ball is not back to form yet), playing lock-down on-ball defense, and has led the Raptors to a 16-4 record to start the season.
Yes, the 9-10 Spurs miss his talent. Any team would.
But when asked pregame about Patty Mills stepping up as a leader for the Spurs, coach Gregg Popovich said he and Manu Ginobili were doing that before because vocal leadership is not what Leonard does. Via Matt Eppers of the USA Today.
“Kawhi was a great player, but he wasn’t a leader or anything,” Popovich said. “Manu and Patty were the leaders. Kawhi’s talent will always be missed, but that leadership wasn’t his deal at that time. That may come as he progresses, but Manu and Patty filled that role last year, and LaMarcus (Aldridge) came a long way in that regard also.”
This is not some dig or wild statement out of the blue. Popovich has said previously that Leonard was a great teammate, but that is different than being a leader. Leonard is a quiet guy, not speaking much to the media or teammates. He’s friendly, can be funny, but is not outgoing.
Leonard came up in a Spurs system where Tim Duncan was the unquestioned franchise leader who set the tone and culture. Ginobili, Tony Parker and everyone else got in line. Including Leonard. When Duncan left there was a void, but it’s just not the kind of situation anyone should have expected Leonard to step up into it.
Maybe Leonard will grow into being a leader, a transformation that may be starting in Toronto. We will see. But the Leonard in San Antonio was not that kind of leader.