LeBron James presents a challenge that Kawhi Leonard isn't scared of.
The NBA playoffs have already seen James face off against two of the best perimeter defenders in Jimmy Butler and Paul George. Each defended him admirably, but neither could stop him from leading the Miami Heat to victory.
Now it's Leonard's turn, and he isn't fretting his assignment.
"It's just a great challenge for me to try to help my team win by playing good defense on him," the second-year Spurs forward remarked, via NBA.com. "I just accept the challenge and am ready to play."
"Ready" is not often a term associated with playing against James. He can exploit opponents in every facet of the game, making him near impossible to guard.
"He's great on offense and defense," Leonard said. "He can pass, he can shoot the ball, gets offensive rebounds and defensive rebounds and he can guard the best player on the other team."
How do you effectively limit someone who does so many things? Oftentimes, you cannot.
George (and Lance Stephenson) played one of the better defensive series we've seen against James, yet he still managed to average 29 points and 5.3 assists on 51 percent shooting.
The same can be said of Butler for the Chicago Bulls. His suffocating efforts appeared to serve as a significant hindrance, as James shot only 43.8 percent from the field for the series. And yet, he still posted 23.6 points and 7.8 rebounds a night, dispatching the Bulls in five games.
Stopping him completely wasn't an option for Butler or George. Containing him didn't seem to be one either. Leonard may find himself incurring a similar fate.
However, Leonard isn't about to allow James' hot streak to instill a sense of fear in him. The 6'7" forward—who has a 7'3" wingspan—isn't revered for his defensive prowess for no reason. He will make life difficult for James—well, as difficult as one can when going up against the world's best player.
Will that be enough? Will Leonard's efforts impede James and ensure the Spurs are crowned the league champions?
Not even Leonard knows if he can frustrate James to that end, but that isn't going to prevent him from trying.
*All stats used for this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference unless otherwise attributed.
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