addByline("Peter Stringer", "Celtics.com", "peterstringer");
SAN ANTONIO – On almost any list of the NBA’s best defenders, Kawhi Leonard is usually Number 1. His reputation is just as well-established as it is well-earned.
Leonard’s size certainly contributes to his abilities as a stopper. The Spurs forward weighs in at 230 lbs. and stands 6’7”. He’s imposing to say the least. The Celtics will get an up close and personal look at Leonard when they face the 19-5 Spurs at AT&T Center on Wednesday night.
Jae Crowder will likely sped most of his night matched up against Leonard. At 6’6” and 235 lbs., Crowder has a similar build, similar age (Crowder is actually 11 months older) and a similar defensive mindset to that of Leonard. So it’s not surprising that comparisons have been drawn between the two players, at least in terms of their abilities when it comes to shutting down opponents.
Crowder’s abilities may be well know in Boston, but he’s working hard to get into that conversation on the national level. Last season, Crowder fell one vote short of making the NBA’s All-Defensive second team, and he was none to pleased about it.
He’s still irked with that sleight. On Tuesday before practice at the Antioch Baptist Church in San Antonio, Crowder called it his “motivation.” Over the summer, Crowder told ESPN’s Chris Forsberg “I’m going to get that next year.”
Avery Bradley, an elite defender in his own right, said of Crowder being miffed, “He should be (upset).”
“I think he doesn’t get enough credit. Jae’s a different defender than Kawhi. His hands are a lot quicker. Not to say that Kawhi’s hands aren’t quick, he’s just different. (Leonard) baits you into different things,” Bradley said. “But Jae is just, his hands are always on the ball.
“They’re both special,” Bradley said.
Bradley also called Leonard a “physical freak” and noted that his size plays an important role in his success as a defender. “He’s so long, a lot of it has to do with his God-gifted ability and his body.”
Crowder’s certainly impressed with what he’s seen from Leonard. What makes him so good in Crowder’s eyes?
“His length on the ball. His activity on the ball when he’s guarding someone,” Crowder said. “And he’s just very smart.”
As for the key to being a top defender at the NBA level, Bradley said it’s all about consistency, something he said Crowder and Leonard both bring to the table.
“Whenever the lights are on, you’re able to defend,” Bradley said of the league's top defenders and their consistency.
As for similarities in his game that match up with Leonard’s, Crowder talked about the routine approach both players take.
“We play the game the right way,” Crowder said. “We let the game come to us. He knows what he does well and decides to do it each and every night. We (both) have a defensive mindset. I look at myself as a defender.”
Crowder’s hoping more pundits, reporters and coaches will see him the same way they see Leonard, and the same way he sees himself. Just like Leonard, he’s earning that respect the only place he can: on the court.