NBA Beat: Spurs might have a star in the making in Leonard

Published: Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 5C
Last Modified: Monday, Jun. 17, 2013 - 4:46 pm

Tim Duncan is much closer to the end of his career than the beginning. Manu Ginobili isn't far behind.

Tony Parker might be having his best NBA season and has been discussed as an MVP candidate.

Known for their established stars, the San Antonio Spurs are developing their next one, Kawhi Leonard. The second-year guard-forward has quickly become a trusted player with the league-leading Spurs.

"His progress has been phenomenal, mostly due to his work ethic," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "He wants to be a great player.

"He's a before- and after-practice kind of guy. (Assistant coach) Chip Engelland with his shooting and (assistant coach) Chad Forcier with the development of his moves, floater, rocker step, those sort of things. They've done a great job with him, and he's just absorbed everything."

It's hardly surprising that Leonard has worked so hard. He said he developed his work ethic at King High School in Riverside.

"I wanted to be a better player and move my name up the rankings to get recruited by some colleges," Leonard said.

Leonard became one of the best college players in the country while at San Diego State, propelling the Aztecs to lofty rankings. He entered the NBA draft after his sophomore season.

A projected top-10 pick, Leonard fell to No. 15, where he was chosen by the Indiana Pacers. They traded his draft rights to the Spurs for guard George Hill.

Leonard has worked on areas that were deemed concerns, such as his shooting, while maintaining the hustle and drive that made him successful in college and high school.

This season, Leonard is averaging 10.6 points and 5.4 rebounds and shooting 49 percent from the field. That includes 39.2 percent on three-point attempts, not bad for a player who was knocked for not being able to shoot from the perimeter.

Popovich said he still considers this Leonard's first season. Because of the lockout, there was no training camp last season, so Leonard joined the NBA with little preparation.

Popovich isn't an easy coach to please, but he appears pleased with Leonard.

Leonard is pleased with his progress in his second season, but he's hardly satisfied.

"I think I'm doing good," Leonard said. "I'm getting better each game. Coaches are telling me I'm doing a good job, so I just keep working hard and listening to them."

Stat watch

The latest ad campaign involving Kevin Durant is correct – he's not nice.

The Oklahoma City Thunder star has 11 technical fouls this season. That's tied with the Kings' DeMarcus Cousins for second in the NBA and trails only Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who has 12.

Of that trio, Cousins and Bryant have a reputation for berating officials.

Durant hasn't been called for a technical foul since Feb. 14 against Miami.

Tweet of the week

"All Dr. Buss ever wanted to do was WIN and he did. Dr. Buss won 10 Championships – 5 with me as a player & 5 with me as his partner." – Earvin "Magic" Johnson (@MagicJohnson) with one of a series of tweets following the death of Lakers owner Jerry Buss last week.

In Buss' first season as owner, 1979-80, Johnson, then a 20-year-old rookie, helped the Lakers win the NBA championship.

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