Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
While Leonard hones his game, a Spurs star closes in on his return to the court.
Leonard was the outlier here, and it was interesting to watch. While the rest of the team practiced, he was off to the side, receiving 2-on-1 coaching instruction and running through drills for skills we really have yet to see in games. Namely a left-handed jump hook that looked incredibly uncomfortable. But that's what's been most impressive about Leonard -- he's absorbing new skill-sets and effectively putting them to use in the NBA.
The second-year man from San Diego State University came into the league with the reputation of a defensive-minded forward who wasn't going to extend the defense with an outside shot. He wasn't going to run an offense out of the isolation or the pick-and-roll, and he wasn't going to make people pay for leaving him open. His length and athleticism promised him a high upside, but it's probably safe to say most didn't see this coming.
Now, he's shooting 37 percent from the arc and 49 percent overall. He's developed a mid-range jumper he's hitting at a 53 percent clip, and he's shown off elements of a post game and a pick-and-roll ability we haven't seen since last summer in Las Vegas. And all of it has been built from the ground up. While he may have exhibited a few of these tendencies while in school — at least enough to attract the attention of NBA teams — they've been refined to fit what the Spurs envision Leonard becoming in their franchise's future.
So watching him at the Spurs facility, awkwardly tossing up repeated lefty hooks that make Tiago Splitter's look like Kareem's Hall-of-Fame go-to move, is a glimpse into the future. We might not see that move for as long as you decide to remember this post, but one day it will surface, and you'll know it was years in the making.
But as for now, this Spurs team is still waiting for the return of its MVP, a moment that appears to be getting closer by the day. Amidst the role players and rotation men running through the scrimmage was another, more memorable face. One with battle scars to show he's been through times like these.
Tony Parker participated in a full-court scrimmage today, stopping off to the side at times to run dribble zigzag drills with one of the team assistants. It wasn't full-bore, and it wasn't the speed he'll see in an NBA game, but he looked to be moving fluidly without the appearance of a struggle. With an upcoming schedule featuring Utah, Houston, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, Memphis and Oklahoma City, the return of a healthy Parker is of the utmost importance.
And not just to the fans.
Off to the side, Gregg Popovich watched the scrimmage portion of practice from his treadmill in the shadows, but his eyes were fixated on one thing the whole time: No. 9.