Leonard led the team with 22 points and 10 rebounds in denying the Heat a bid at a three-peat and avenging last year's seven-game series loss in the Finals. The NBA's official Twitter accounted reported on Leonard's stellar achievement, while also highlighting his excellent Finals numbers:
Kawhi Leonard (17.8 PPG (61.2% FG), 6.4 RPG, 1.6 SPG) is the 2014 #NBAFinals MVP— NBA (@NBA) June 16, 2014
BasketballInsiders.com's Alex Kennedy provided historical context for how extraordinary this accolade is for someone as young as Leonard:
Kawhi Leonard is the third-youngest Finals MVP in NBA history, behind only Tim Duncan and Magic Johnson.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) June 16, 2014
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich summed up Leonard's game best via NBA expert Chris Palmer:
Pop on Kawhi: "I haven't called a play for him all playoffs."— Chris Palmer (@ChrisPalmerNBA) June 16, 2014
Leonard may be the future face of the franchise in San Antonio, in which he'd assume a role legendary big man Tim Duncan has filled for over a decade and still does so. The Houston Chronicle's Jenny Dial Creech referenced the interesting parallels between Leonard and Duncan with regard to their maiden Finals MVP awards:
Last 22-year old Finals MVP before Kawhi Leonard - Tim Duncan in 1999.— Jenny Dial Creech (@jennydialcreech) June 16, 2014
Expectations were high for Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the veteran trio that has driven the Spurs' sustained success. However, more assertiveness on offense from Leonard led to pleasantly surprising results, and it continued for the past three blowout wins San Antonio earned.
Popovich is considered among the best in the business. His quote about Leonard from September 2012 seems to be coming true—per Sporting News' Sean Deveney:
I think he’s going to be a star. And as time goes on, he’ll be the face of the Spurs, I think. At both ends of the court, he is really a special player. And what makes me be so confident about him is that he wants it so badly. He wants to be a good player, I mean a great player. He comes early, he stays late, and he’s coachable, he’s just like a sponge. When you consider he’s only had (two years) of college and no training camp yet, you can see that he’s going to be something else.
ThriveSports.com's Sean Jensen documented what Popovich said after Game 5, which hints that Leonard's best is yet to come based on his current role:
Leonard still has upside to explore and showcased skills in the NBA Finals to suggest that he can develop into one of the best two-way players in the game. With his enhanced role in the offense and stout defense, there is little Leonard can't do. That bodes well for his future regardless of what the roster looks like next year and beyond.
Benefiting from a coach like Popovich and top-notch mentors, the future appears bright for Leonard as he embarks on his fourth season in the Association. Whether this Finals performance is a flash in the pan or a sign of what's to come remains to be seen.
Based on how San Antonio tends to groom players to step up and contend for titles on an annual basis, it's hard to doubt Leonard as a perennial All-Star in the coming years.