Kanye West strives for greatness. You can see it in his actions -- his random outbursts on Twitter, his outlandish stunts, and his ludicrous assertions --, and you can hear it in his music -- the bombastic production, his lyrical subjects, and the passion behind each word. He makes it clear that he wants to be the best in the industry, and even the best in the world. He claims that he's on par with God, that he spit out the best verse in history, and that he wants to be as good as Michael Jackson.
Now, you may dislike Kanye West for these actions, or you may completely respect him for his music. And some of you may lie in the middle, a mix of the two extremes. But here's the thing: he actually doesn't care what you think.
He doesn't care about being likable. He doesn't want to please you. He just wants to be the best.
He is a perfectionist that adds to his craft. Each album added a musical idea: The College Dropout paved the way for his deft use of samples; Late Registration introduced brilliant instrumentation; Graduation began his forays into the grand sounds; 808s and Heartbreak presented Kanye's bare emotion after a heartbreak, and his use of the autotune. His work led to his magnum opus: My Beautiful Dark and Twisted Fantasy.
The album integrates every element shown in the previous albums, but only better -- the grand hip-hop beats of Graduation are mainly seen, but in the album's darkest sections, the twisted emotions of Heartbreak are revealed; in the subtle use of samples, Dropout rears its head; in the variety of instruments used, echoes of Graduation can be heard. This results in an album that is the absolute fulfillment of his talent and personality; Kanye has not wasted any of his experience in the studio.
* * *
Kawhi Leonard is famous for being a quiet man. He has turned down opportunities to be on the podium, electing to have one of his teammates take the task for him. He once toured the city of San Antonio with Cory Joseph, and he didn't say one word. And according to multiple people, he speaks less than Tim Duncan.
Simply put, he just wants to play the game, get better, and win.
"He wants to be a great player and go home. That's basically who he is," said Gregg Popovich after the Game Three win. He's not going to indulge in his talent like Kanye does, but at the base of their psyche, the share a similar desire: they want to be the best.
In this desire, he reveals his perfectionist personality. During his interviews, he exhibits his ability to take himself out of the moment and look at a broader scale. He does not put too much in any one performance; he would rather focus on his deficiencies.
This leads to his work ethic: he works so hard that Popovich has to drag him out of the gym -- he works so hard that a coach who asks for so much has to tell him to stop working. And that work pays off -- it has resulted in his performance in Game Three, and in the 2012-2013 season, a kangaroo act of carrying the Spurs without the Big Three against the Chicago Bulls, racking up 26 points on 11-of-18 from the field in a 103-89 victory.
When Kawhi Leonard shows these flashes of excellence, he proves the same thing Kanye does: he has not wasted any of his experience in the gym.
* * *
The fact that the Spurs only had Kawhi Leonard for three days to work with before the lockout started in 2011 has been well-documented. Tom Ziller references it in this article. In these three days, Chip Engelland worked with Kawhi to fix his jumper -- to make it more fluid and sound. The rest is history: Kawhi went on to be a valuable corner three-point shooter for the Spurs that season; he was declared to be the next Bruce Bowen. But he knew that he was something more.
Before the 2012 season began, Kawhi played in the Las Vegas Summer League for a few games. There, his performance against the Atlanta Hawks stood out: he demonstrated a confident handle, dribbling around defenders and creating his own shot. The rest is history: Kawhi went on to be a valuable player for the Spurs, showing semblance of an uncanny ability to create plays from offensive rebounds and flashes of playmaking, as well as becoming a legitimate two-way threat, creating havoc on defense that seamlessly led to his offense. He started to show his true worth: a player that can take full advantage of the gaps that The System cannot compensate for -- roles that only the very best can cover --, like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan.
This season, Kawhi started off with his shot out of whack. He shot 20% from the three-point line in November, and the numbers steadily climbed up from there. Splitting the season with the All-Star break proves this: before the break, he shot 32.7%; after, he shot 44.4%. However, his value did not disappear even when his shot did. The Spurs went 54-12 when Leonard played during the season. He expanded on his ability to turn defense into offense, and his playmaking skills improved. The rest is still playing out: Kawhi Leonard has been undeniably indispensable in these playoffs.
He followed up his unbelievable offensive outing with a more gaudy stat line: he showed his capacity to completely affect both ends of the floor. In Game 4 of The Finals, he scored 20 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, directly assisted on 3 buckets, got 3 steals and 3 blocks. His 20 points resulted from playing within The System, but also from shots created by himself -- he took it to the rim when needed. His defensive numbers are only indicative of a tiny part of his contributions in his defense; it does not take into account how many times he affected a direct pass, or how many times he deterred a drive. He is becoming a player that transcends the box score.
He is following in Kanye West's career track. Each season, he adds something to his game. His skills do not taper off -- they improve. His three-point shooting continues to get better; his defense, which lacked in polish and control at the beginning, led to his selection into the NBA's All-Defensive Second Team this year; his ability to create outside The System expands -- when the situation calls for it, more often or not, Kawhi delivers.
In a few years, he'll come up with his My Beautiful Dark and Twisted Fantasy. By then, he be at the peak of his powers; these performances that he teases us with will become the norm. Each practice session that has shaped him will manifest itself in a two-way player that terrorizes both offense and defense alike. He will become a player whose imposing box score will be eclipsed under his actual contribution to a game.
And I can't wait for it.
I just hope he doesn't release something like Yeezus.