After a 28-match 2019-20 NBL season, these are my player rankings for the last-placed Illawarra Hawks.
Kawhi Leonard is the definition of hard work, persistence and greatness. From when he first entered the league averaging 7.9 points largely off the bench, Kawhi has worked at his craft and become a legitimate MVP candidate.
Leonard is not the type of player who will declare himself an MVP candidate, taunt opposing players or showboat after one spectacular play.
Instead, his humble attitude and killer instincts have combined to create the greatest role model in the NBA.
His constant growth and improvement have the Spurs contending for a championship following the retirement of Tim Duncan.
On Tuesday, when Leonard led San Antonio to a comeback win over the Houston Rockets, there was no showboating, no hysterics and no nonsense. Just contained excitement, knowing that his work is only beginning as the playoffs near.
We saw 39 points, a game-winning three followed by a block, a quick embrace with his teammates, then a walk to the locker room.
Following his spectacular block on Harden, Kawhi calmly dribbled the ball until he was fouled, knocked down his free throws to extend the lead, and as the final buzzer sounded, calmly exited.
This is the attitude adopted by the Spurs greats that have gone before him, and is the identity of the NBA’s best two-way player.
While other players throughout the course of a game celebrate each play and energise the crowd, Kawhi just plays the game of basketball. He has earned the right to showboat, and other players should not be criticised for their personality, but Leonard’s attitude and respect for the game should be celebrated.
Winning in the NBA, whether it be a championship or a mere playoff appearance, starts with culture. It requires sacrifice, humility and dedication, and without a star player willing to display these traits, the task of achieving glory is almost impossible.
It is easy to fall in love with the historic numbers being put up by Russell Westbrook and James Harden, or the unwavering freight train that is LeBron James. It is easy to admire the ball handling of Kyrie Irving, or the relentless attack on the rim from Isaiah Thomas.
And it is easy to admire the lockdown defence of Kawhi Leonard, or the elegant stroke that is his three-point shot. But as basketball fans, we must love and embrace Kawhi’s humility over anything else.
LeBron, Shaquille O’Neal and Westbrook are often spoken of as once-in-a-lifetime players, and they are. But we have only ever seen one superstar who displays the same humility and respect as Kawhi Leonard, and his name was Tim Duncan.
Perhaps as Duncan’s final contribution to basketball enthusiasts, we have Kawhi Leonard. And there is no better role model.