Leonard Repeats As Defensive Player Of The Year

Kawhi Leonard has cited repetition as a major part of his basketball development. He looks back on day after day in the gym with assistant coaches Chip Engelland and Chad Forcier, or the plays and drills he’s run with teammates over and over that shaped him into the NBA player he is today.

Leonard went through another bit of repetition on Monday, when he accepted the Kia Defensive Player of the Year award for the second straight year.

Only eight players have won the award in back-to-back seasons, including Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo and Sidney Moncrief. Leonard is one of three non-centers to accomplish the feat.

Leonard was quick to credit others for the award.

“Most importantly, I want to thank my teammates,” Leonard said. “I felt like we all did a great job this year going in each and every game, being focused and striving to stop the other team.”

Leonard contributed to a San Antonio defense that led the NBA with 92.9 points allowed per game and topped the league in defensive rating at 96.6 points per 100 possessions.

According to NBA.com/Stats, the Spurs had a defensive rating of 94.9 when Leonard was on the court and 99.2 when he wasn’t – 4.3 points per 100 possessions as Leonard helped the Spurs to a franchise-record 67-15 season.

Leonard averaged 1.78 steals, 5.5 defensive rebounds and a career-high 0.99 blocks, in a season when he emerged as one of the league’s top two-way players with offensive career highs of 21.2 points and 2.6 assists. 

“He’s giving credit to everybody as he should, he’s a wonderful young man,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “But the things he does amaze me night after night. And the fact that he does it on both ends really is something, and he rebounds on top of it. He’s a pretty special guy.”

At 24, Leonard is still the second-youngest player on the Spurs. Kyle Anderson, 22, is the only one younger.

Yet Leonard has already built a resumé that includes the 2015 NBA Finals MVP, his first All-Star appearance in the 2016 game and now, his second straight Defensive Player of the Year award.

Leonard joins Olajuwon as the only players to win back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards and an NBA Finals MVP.

Given his experience when it comes to awards presentations, Leonard spent the bulk of his time on Monday explaining the importance of teammates such as Tim Duncan on the ability for Leonard to execute his defensive gameplan. Duncan holds the NBA record with 15 career selections to the All-Defense teams, but has never been named the Defensive Player of the Year.

“I just hide behind them in the game, really,” Leonard said. “They give me to confidence to pressure my man and get to the ball-handler. The bigs are there on the help side if the guy goes by me, and I’m able to switch to the other offensive players and allow the other guards to guard the best offensive player. Having the confidence in me makes me want to strive harder and be the best basketball player that I can be.”

As part of its support of the award, Kia is donating a new Sorento CUV to a charity of Leonard’s choice.

Leonard picked the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas, which currently serves more than 1,000 children a year providing grief support for children. It recently expanded its reach to the Rio Grande Valley with an office in Harlingen, Texas, 250 miles south of San Antonio.

Now, the center has its first company car to make the trips.

The cause has personal meaning to Leonard, who lost his father, Mark, when he was 16.

 “Our teens are inspired by Kawhi,” said Marian Sokol, Executive Director of the Children’s Bereavement Center. “The kids bring up Kawhi, not us. They can relate to him. There’s no way to normalize what they’re going through, but as they’re walking through their most painful journey of grief, they find light in people like Kawhi who have been through that walk.”