What Are Kawhi Leonard's and Danny Green's Pro Ceilings?

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBAFeatured Columnist IVApril 3, 2017

Jan 13, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) celebrates a basket with guard Danny Green (4) during the second half against the Portland Trail Blazers at the AT&T Center. The Spurs won 99-83. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Before the start of the 2013 NBA Finals, you probably lumped Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green as just two more players in the San Antonio Spurs support staff.

Trust me, there are far worse things that you can call a professional baller. While San Antonio has built its decade-plus dynasty largely around the strength of its consistent core four (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich), few teams have gotten so much out of its other guys.

But now that we're four games in to basketball's real big dance, it's time to call Leonard and Green what they really are: the true keys to bringing the Larry O'Brien Trophy back to San Antonio for the fifth time in franchise history.

And that's not just me saying that; that's the numbers talking.

Leonard (11.9 points per game) and Green (10.5) have been San Antonio's third and fifth-best scorers in this series, respectively. Leonard, a 6'7" small forward, has corralled the third-most rebounds of any Finals participant (10.8 per game). Green, who's been waived three times in his four-year career, has raised the bar for his fellow floor spacers by converting his Finals threes at nearly a 70-percent clip (67.9 to be exact).

And defensively they've made an arguably equal impact. The duo has traded LeBron James duty and, prior to the King's 33-point outburst in Game 4, shattered even the most optimistic hopes on that end of the floor.

With their three Hall of Fame-bound teammates fighting to receive due credit for their achievements, it's no surprise that Leonard and Green are still struggling to register a blip on the league's radar.

But those in the know have managed to look beyond the superstar headliners of this series, instead focusing on a pair of unheralded up-and-comers. Why, you ask? Because these are the two players with the greatest responsibility of successfully leading the franchise into its next chapter, the one without the likes of Duncan, Ginobili, Parker and Popovich.

Whether or not Leonard and Green can help future San Antonio teams look anything like the current version is impossible to predict. There are too many unanswered variables in play (surrounding roster, Pop's replacement now that Mike Budenholzer is coaching the Atlanta Hawks) to even make an educated guess.

But there's certainly enough evidence at hand to set the bar for their solo careers.

The 25-year-old Green is the senior member of this tandem, so he'll be the first to get tossed inside the crystal ball.

First thing's first, his days of worrying about where to find his next paycheck have clearly passed. He has established himself as a premier perimeter sniper, posting back-to-back seasons of 42-plus percent shooting.

Of course for him to take the next step in his progression, he'll have to find other ways to impact the game beyond his automatic three-point stroke.

Defensively he's already emerging as a pestering presence, combining his length (6'6") and quickness with an instinctive touch. The Spurs have allowed just 98.0 points per 100 possessions with Green on the floor in this postseason, the third-best mark of all San Antonio regulars.

The offensive end is still a work in progress, as he's struggled at times when defenses chase him off the three-point line. Nearly 55 percent of his career 540 field goal makes have come from beyond the arc, and that number jumped to 59.6 percent this season. He's incredibly limited creating his own offense and often relies on teammates to find him clean looks.

Despite being a rotation regular for just the last two seasons, the book on Green doesn't figure to change much. His strengths (defense, shooting) and weaknesses (handles, creativity) haven't changed since he left the University of North Carolina in 2009.

In other words, he's not going to become a superstar. But he's going to blossom into the ultimate glue guy (think: Shane Battier), unless he's already reached that level.

Leonard has the smaller body of work to pour over, as the 21-year-old is still putting the finishing touches on his sophomore season. But while lofty projections are a bit of a leap of faith, it's getting harder and harder to peg where his ceiling is.

He needed all of one NBA season for Popovich to call him the future "face" of the franchise. And with a stellar follow up campaign, that future may be a lot closer than anyone could have imagined.

He bumped his scoring average by four points to 11.9 per game and increased his per-36 average to 13.7. His already impressive shooting percentages held strong (49.4 percent from the floor, 37.4 from deep), and his success rate at the foul line jumped more than five full percentage points to 82.5.

What makes him such a fascinating specimen for hoops heads, though, is his ability to stuff every part of the stat sheet. 

He's increased his assist average by 0.5 per game this season, a notable increase given the fact that he's sharing most of his minutes with either Parker or Ginobili. Among San Antonio players averaging at least 10 minutes in the playoffs, he trails only Duncan in rebounding percentage (13.6). He's one of only four playoff participants averaging at least 1.7 steals and 0.5 blocks, the others being James Harden, Josh Smith and Dwyane Wade.

And he's only going to get better. He had the reputation of being a gym rat during his college days and that's only become more apparent since joining the league.

With his defensive prowess, ability to score from all angles and create offense off the dribble, his potential puts him somewhere between Andre Iguodala and Paul George's levels.

The All-Star appearances may well taper off when San Antonio's decorated quartet rides off into the sunset, but don't be surprised if that string of postseason berths continues. Leonard and Green are going to need some help, but together they form a solid foundation for this franchise to build around.