Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs Shouldn't Worry About a Sophomore Slump
He immediately made an impact, as his youth gave the team something it had lacked in a star for so long. The tenacity he displayed on defense—though expected—benefited the Spurs in ways that were unimaginable, and his staggering ability to shoot the deep ball gave coach Gregg Popovich the confidence that Leonard would be a long-time contributor to the team.
"He’s going to be a Spur for life if the planets, agents and all those sort of things line up,” Popovich said. “We’d love for him to be a Spur for life. He’s a sponge as far as absorbing information, seeking out information and adding a work ethic to it. When he came in, he couldn’t shoot much. With the tutelage of Chip Engelland, he has really improved in that area and all a sudden he’s shooting threes, which none of us dreamed he’d be able to do last year. Defensively, he’s good. He’s going to handle the ball more this year, be in pick-and-rolls more this year. We expect a lot from him."
Now, entering his sophomore season, the surprise Rookie of the Year candidate is subject to the dreaded Sophomore Slump.
However, while the slump may be nothing more than a myth, there are undoubtedly a few second-year studs who won't live up to their rookie-season heroics.
Luckily for the Spurs, Leonard should not be one of these sophomores to suffer the effects of the curse.
He may be a likely candidate, as the success was unexpected, whereas rookies Kyrie Irving and Ricky Rubio were expected to perform in an above-average manner.
However, the traits that made him so successful were not centered around the pure talent he displayed, but rather they were centered around the intangibles.
It's hard to suffer a decline in defensive determination or work ethic. A slump is more likely to occur in the physical categories like scoring.
The only facet of his game that could potentially take a hit is his three-point efficiency, but that was unexpected even last year, and Coach Popovich has already said that his shooting ability has grown over the offseason.
The rest of his offensive game is very inconsistent. While he isn't a stranger to the highlight reels, his ability to penetrate doesn't come from natural scoring ability as much as it does from his off-the-charts athleticism, an intangible that can be limited only if he is injured.
Since he wasn't a major offensive threat last year, not too much is expected now.
His overall statistics were far from eye-catching, but what made him a stand out as a rookie was his professionalism and overall value to the team. Now, he'll be a sophomore, so he'll exhibit an even more polished demeanor. Because his role in the game will increase, his value will increase, also.
His increased role in the game will keep his stats from decreasing, as they were already unimpressive; stars like Irving would be more susceptible to a reduction in numbers.
All rookies, however, will find themselves in their first summer of training camp, so few teams should see a large reduction in performance. Leonard, especially, should only improve, as his scoring average can only grow with his minutes, and his intangibles will remain untouched.
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