Kawhi Leonard's evolution from defensive stalwart to No. 1 offensive option, two-way superstar, and MVP candidate over the last couple of years was hardly predictable, even for his decorated head coach.
"No, I certainly did not see that," Gregg Popovich told theScore on Tuesday when asked if he foresaw Leonard becoming the offensive force he's developed into for the San Antonio Spurs.
|30+USG% & 62+TS%||Season|
(Courtesy: Basketball Reference)
"We saw his size and his athleticism, his work ethic, the way he practiced, the way he played, his toughness, so we made the decision," Popovich said of the 2011 draft night trade that sent George Hill to Indiana for Leonard (and Davis Bertans).
"But when we made the trade, we were very nervous about it, because we really didn't know.
"We knew what we were giving up, because George Hill was great for us, but we needed more size, so R.C. (Buford) and I, and Danny Ferry, rolled the bones."
While Hill has carved out a successful career for himself as an NBA starter - and borderline All-Star this season, had he stayed healthy - the Spurs now know there was no need to stress over rolling said bones.
In his five-and-a-half years as a pro, Leonard has earned Finals MVP honors, two Defensive Player of the Year awards, two All-Star selections, and an All-NBA 1st Team selection last season, when he also finished second to Stephen Curry in MVP voting.
Over the last season-and-a-half, Leonard has averaged just under 23 points per game on a 50-43-89 shooting line while shouldering a usage rate above 27 percent and maintaining his status as one of the game's premier defenders.
It simply shouldn't be possible to remain so efficient while carrying the tremendous two-way burden Leonard does.
"It turned out that Kawhi Leonard's character is even more abundant than we thought, in the sense that his work ethic is off the charts, and he's got a real hunger to be great," Popovich said before also praising the work of assistant coach Chip Engelland and former player development coach, Chad Forcier (now with Orlando).
"They've been doing yeoman's work since the day (Leonard) came. That's the reason he's done what he's done at the offensive end. Those guys deserve big credit, and his character."