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Kawhi Leonard.

Kawhi Leonard: A superstar staying away from the spotlight

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Kawhi Leonard is one of the NBA's biggest stars; the San Antonio Spurs small forward can do it all on the hardwood, and his skills have taken him to the pinnacle of the NBA at the relatively young age of 24.

His performance in the 2014 NBA Finals, where his lockdown defence helped the Spurs claim revenge over LeBron James and the Miami Heat, led to a finals MVP award and confirmed what we all knew; Leonard was one of the best defenders in the business.

He took that to a new level the following season, being named Defensive Player of the Year, and has continued to be the foundation of Gregg Popovich's vision going forward for the Western Conference franchise. 

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But 2015-16 has seen him make the final step and become a premium two-way player. Pop has put the ball in Leonard's hands more often, and the first-time All-Star has repaid that gesture with an average of 20.3 points per game.

In a world where social media dominates, the former San Diego State player is somewhat of a maverick in the 21st century. Not interested in the flashing lights and celebrity status, he is more than happy to focus on business; winning basketball games.

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His attitude seems to fit perfectly with the mentality of San Antonio and coach Popovich; flying under the radar and being competitive without being flashy or showing off. And Kawhi admits he tries to keep his personal life separate from his professional life, and only has two aims when he's out on the court.

"I just separate my personal life from basketball," he said. "I just got out there to compete, have fun and go home afterwards. It [media attention] is just something that you've got to do. Fans want to see, so I just take it for what it is."

Coming from a relatively low-level college programme like San Diego State, Kawhi felt like he had been slept on, but was under no illusions about his own ability and was always certain he had what it took to become an All-Star. Which he did this year, finishing third in fan voting to become a Western Conference starter.

NBA All-Star Game 2016

"I felt like nobody watched because I was at a low measure, but since high school, I thought I could be an All-Star if I was able to get into the NBA. I've just been blessed to have the opportunity to play.

"Coach Pop and the organisation have seen how hard I work, they give me an opportunity to score the ball more, even just play minutes out on the floor."

That hard work has been the driving force behind the Spurs' franchise-record start and a reason the 6'7 forward is a contender for MVP, although, Stephen Curry's unbelievable improvement should see him go back to back.

But being slept on may have been the reason Kawhi has reached the levels of performance we are currently seeing. Robert Horry, a seven-time NBA champion, who won a ring with the Spurs in 2007, believes it can make guys into better players.

"I thought he was going to be the defensive player that he is," Horry said, speaking exclusively to GiveMeSport. "But I didn't know he was going to be the offensive threat that he is. I watched him play in college and I thought he was good.

"The thing about players like him is that people think 'because I've never heard of you, you can't play'. That hasn't got anything to do with it, that's just because this team is Duke or North Carolina.

"If you watch these guys, like Kawhi, who are mad because they are not on TV, they're not talked about - they have chips on their shoulders."

There is definitely an attitude to his game, but that drive, determination and passion have forged him into an elite athlete and will continue to serve him well throughout his career.

San Antonio Spurs v Cleveland Cavaliers

But it's not all business, sometimes - regardless of how rare - Kawhi can be seen enjoying himself. A video has gone viral of him trying to contain a smile and  Kevin Durant admitted he had never seen the Leonard smile as much as during the All-Star break.

"You see the personality of all these guys, everybody is so focused and so locked in on their season and you start to see the personality of the guy, Kawhi Leonard; I've never seen him smile this much."

Topics:
NBA
San Antonio Spurs
Southwest Division
Western Conference
Kawhi Leonard

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